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Dalit Business Personalities






Rajesh Saraiya, India's first Dalit billioniar


    Rajesh Saraiya might be a name that is not known to many               but for the people of his community, he is their superhero. Rajesh is India’s first Mulnivasi billionaire. Born in a middle class family in Dehradun, Rajesh studied aeronautical engineering in Russia. Now based in Ukraine, he runs a multi-national company SteelMont Pvt Ltd that deals in metals.


“People have to change from inside. They have to change their ideology, their mentality and look around the world for what is happening. There are so many opportunities,” said Saraiya.

Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industries, whose sole purpose is to bring together Dalit businessman is an organisation which works for the betterment of Dalit businessmen in the country

Despite being a great accomplishment, the grim reality in the conditions of the marginalized sector has not changed in India. According to a report submitted by the National Commission for Enterprises in the unorganized sector in 2007, about 88 percent of Adivasis and Dalits in India, spend less than Rs. 20 a day.

“Mulnivasis are second to none as far as intelligence and entrepreneurship is concerned. We only have to give them an opportunity,” said J J Irani, who works as a Director with the Tata Sons at the conference at the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industries.

“We have been trying to bring together SC-ST-OBC businessmen since 2003. After 2005 we changed the name and formed the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industries,” added Milind Kamble, Chairman of DICCI.


In all these cases, education was a key input. Alas, rural government schools are so terrible that many dalits remain functionally illiterate and handicapped. Even so, they have made astonishing strides in the last 20 years, as revealed by a seminal study by Devesh Kapur and others.

This study looked at dalits in blocks in western and eastern Uttar Pradesh. The proportion of dalits owning their own business was up from 6% to 36.7% in western UP, and from 4.2% to 11% in eastern UP. The proportion in non-traditional occupations (like tailors, masons etc) was up from 14% to 37% in the east, and from 9.3% to 42% in western UP.

Many dalits in eastern UP were once locked into the halwaha (bonded labour) system. This has virtually disappeared: the halwaha proportion is down from 32.1% to 1.1%. The proportion of dalit households doing any farm labour has plummeted from 76% to 45.6% in the east, and from 46.1% to just 20.5% in the west. Encouragingly, the proportion depending on their own land is up from 16.6% to 28.4% in the east, and from 50.5% to 67.6% in the west.

Political parties shout themselves hoarse over job reservations. Yet, the dalit family proportion in government jobs has actually fallen from 7.2% to 6.8% in the east, and risen marginally from 5% to 7.3% in the west. Clearly, job reservation has not been a key factor in UP’s social revolution. The main drivers of improvement have been the new opportunities arising from fast growth created by economic reforms, plus the empowerment drive of dalit chief minister Mayawati.

Indian leftists keep chanting that economic reforms have created new inequalities. They may even criticize the rise of dalit millionaires as a new sort of inequality. Phooey! This is a magnificent success. It shows that dalits have become empowered enough to soar into the millionaire range. Long live such inequality!

Seth Satpal Mall- Famous Bussiness Personality in the Field of Leather Industry.  Chairman, Sri Guru Ravidass Education and Charitable Trust

Steven Kaler-Leather Industrialist from Jalandhar

Anuj Kumar - Founder Kn'M SErvices , USA
Overview
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Kn'M provides business consulting, systems integration and managed services to world wide companies, medium-sized businesses, and government organizations. We leverage extensive industry and technology domain experience and flexible tools and methodologies to successfully deliver on time and on budget. As business systems integrators, we align our clients’ business processes and information systems to enable them to access the right information at the right time, empowering them to achieve their desired business results and create enterprise value.
Kn’M ’s business philosophy aims at integrating leading edge technology and superior customer service to deliver contemporary and innovative solutions that significantly reduce development costs and provide quality. Kn’M ’s Competency -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Strong in Oracle Apps Implementation, Support and Upgrade Includes a team of trained and experienced groups of consultants with the relevant skill set, focusing exclusively on oracle applications suite of products.
Have done Oracle ERP development in HRMS modules.
A Dedicated team with thorough understanding of business processes and best practice requirements. Consistently delivers on value and service and are trained for Go-Live and Subsequent Support. Carried out Generic enterprise applications solutions, which include full cycle implementations. Proven competency and capability to deliver solutions and services to requirements that range from a wide scale of complexity and scope. Skilled in User Training and Documentation for easier maintenance, support and future upgrades. Contact Tel: (951) 496-4252 Fax: (951) 848-0537 Sales: info@KnMServices.com
Invoice: accounts@KnMServices.com

Sanjiwani Meharda - OB/GYN , USA & Founder K'nM Services

Omar St. Clair Salhan – CSS Project Ltd, Blacksmith Section UK 

Dr B L Meharda - Retd IAS, Rajasthan - Owner MKM IIM, KVS etc

Amit Meharda – Business person from Rajasthan

Seth Munshi Ram Bhatia - 
Famous Industrialist himself to changing circumstances it would be impossible for him to gain his livelihood. Now the Caste System will not allow Hindus to take to occupations where they are wanted if they do not belong to them by heredity. If a Hindu is seen to starve rather than take to new occupations not assigned to his Caste, the reason is to be found in the Caste System. By not permitting readjustment of occupations, caste becomes a direct cause of much of the unemployment we see in the country.


Rajendra Gaikwad
Around 40 years ago, huddled among a group of hungry children in his native village of Vadgaon Budruk in Maharashtra, Rajendra Gaikwad had an epiphany about how there was discrimination in a simple seating arrangement.
It was a mass lunch thrown by upper-caste Marathas and the nine-year-old was seated along with his mother in a corner of the temple where Dalits of the village ate. “We were segregated from the upper-caste Hindus, which was very humiliating. Even as a child, I felt insulted and would cry each time my parents would talk of visiting the village. I didn’t return after that,’’ he says.

Gaikwad is today based in Pune and runs a pest-control firm with operations in India and Singapore. He is also a member of a growing band of Dalit entrepreneurs who have eagerly grabbed the opportunities offered by a booming Indian economy to break the occupational shackles imposed on their community for centuries.



THE CASTE ORDER

"Castes in India" A crusader against the caste order and a Dalit himself, Dr. Ambedkar critiqued and rejected all Hindu scriptures, singling out the Manusmriti, which he burnt on December 25, 1927, at Mahad, in his native, western state of Maharashtra. Despite being the least read of all the caste Hindu scriptures (at least among the general public), what is written in Manusmriti is practiced extensively in society. Moreover, a number of illustrious public personalities in India have held the Manusmriti in reverence. Rabindranath Tagore, who won and later returned the Nobel Prize for Literature, wanted Manu’s codes to be changed to fit into modern times.1 Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the first vice president and second president of independent India, endorsed Tagore’s viewpoint.2 The social reformer and Hindu revivalist Dayanand Saraswati held the view that "the Code of Manu [is] beyond space, time, caste and creed."3 Swami Vivekananda, another famous spiritual and religious leader at the turn of the 20th century, had a strong penchant for the observance of Manu’s laws 4
Markets and Manu: Economic Reforms and Its Impact on Caste in India.


A new business class: Dalits who turned first-generation entrepreneurs

From a mini solar plant to an e-commerce site for second-hand vouchers, a group of Dalits have turned into first-generation entrepreneurs, backed by a government VC fund.



 October 11, 2015 
Over the last 20 years, Avichal Dhiwar has tried his hand at several small-scale businesses — setting up a telephone and photocopier kiosk, selling stationery items, and renting out colour TVs and VCRs — and met with little success. Now, at 50, Dhiwar has a big idea: running a facility that will sell 10,000 litres of water everyday.
Dhiwar “could muster the courage” to set up the business only after he learnt of the Venture Capital Fund for Scheduled Castes, a scheme the government launched on January 16 to finance business projects set up by Dalits. Until now, says Dhiwar, “as a Dalit”, securing loans for business was “almost impossible”.
So far, 14 projects, including Dhiwar’s, have been approved for financing under the VC fund. They will receive Rs 66.77 crore over the next couple of months, with two entrepreneurs having already received their share of the money.
While reservation in education and public sector jobs were watershed moments for Dalits, helping raise their socio-economic profile, the 1991 economic reforms, which abolished the licence raj, failed to nurture the community’s entrepreneurial spirit. Limited access to institutionalised finance ensured that only a few thousand among the 20.13 crore Dalits (according to Census 2011) emerged as businesspersons of any reckoning.
Shivendra Tomar, managing director, IFCI Venture Capital Funds Ltd, the asset management company operating the VC fund, hopes that will change now. “If I am willing to listen, they are more than willing to talk,” says Tomar. IFCI VC Funds has roped in the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI), an umbrella organisation of about 3,000 Dalit entrepreneurs, and held meetings in several states to identify beneficiaries of the scheme.
The VC Fund extends money on certain conditions, among them, the prospective entrepreneur should have incorporated the company for at least one year and should present a collateral against loans or debentures. Though Dhiwar feels “too many riders will be counter-productive”, the stories of at least five beneficiaries shows that an affirmative push is all that’s needed for dreams to take off.


GURPREET SINGH, 30 (CHANDIGARH)
Dalits, entrepreneurs, Venture Capital Fund, Dalit entrepreneurs, Dalits Venture Capital Fund, Dalits VC fund, Avichal Dhiwar, Gurpreet Singh, Abhitabh Meshram, Praveen Kamble, Vijay Kolaventy, Sunday Story, The Indian express
Project: Manufacturing facility for fly-ash bricks, blocks and pavers VC funding: Rs 8.5 crore
When Gurpreet Singh was about seven years old, he would wonder why he could not visit one of the two gurdwaras in Bhajauli, his father’s village in Punjab. “I would ask my grandfather why he would not take us to that gurdwara. He never explained, but I now know that as Dalit Sikhs, we were denied entry into that one,” says Singh, 30, CEO of MGM Infra Development Solutions Pvt Ltd.
Son of an engineer in a government department at Bhaddal, Punjab, Singh went on to do a BTech in computer engineering from the Institute of Engineering & Technology, Bhaddal, in 2008, after which he worked for Dell in Mohali for a year. He later joined a private infrastructure company and was involved in building the “first air conditioned bus stand in Mohali”. But he “always wanted to strike out on his own”.
Another job later, he knew what he had to do. “While speaking to friends in Bengaluru, I learnt that the Metro construction there uses hollow blocks made of fly ash. In Punjab, we generally use kiln-made bricks, not fly ash. So, in 2013, I decided to set up a manufacturing facility for fly ash and concrete-based building material,” he says.
His father sold the family property to give him Rs 4 crore for the initial capital to set up the company. But Singh needed Rs 18.2 crore in all. Once again, he would encounter “caste discrimination, though not so overt”. At least three banks, he says, rejected his loan application.
Finally, last October, the Bank of Maharashtra lent his company a loan of Rs 4.7 crore.
Under the VC fund, he has been sanctioned Rs 8.5 crore. Having secured most of the investment, Singh is looking ahead. “I want to involve the best brains in construction technology, so we have tied up with German company Hess,” he says.
Singh feels there is still a need for “more positive discrimination”. “Reservations are filled to satisfy government norms, but most decision-making is not with SCs”.

ABHITABH MESHRAM, 37 (NAGPUR)
Dalits, entrepreneurs, Venture Capital Fund, Dalit entrepreneurs, Dalits Venture Capital Fund, Dalits VC fund, Avichal Dhiwar, Gurpreet Singh, Abhitabh Meshram, Praveen Kamble, Vijay Kolaventy, Sunday Story, The Indian express
Project: Setting up a roller flour mill VC funding: Rs 4.9 crore
An electronics engineer from Manoharbhai Patel Institute of Engineering and Technology, Gondia, Maharashtra, Abhitabh Meshram worked as a software professional in Hyderabad and Bengaluru for 4-5 years before he pawned his mother’s jewellery to start a mineral water business under the brand name ‘Supreme Aqua’ in 2005. His living room served as his office and the 6,000-sq-ft plant in Jaripatka, Nagpur, produced 1,000 litres an hour. His customers include government departments and banks.
“Banks don’t give loans without collateral to a first-generation entrepreneur. My father joined the Income-Tax department as a clerk and my mother ran a kirana store. The toughest part was to bring money to the table,” he says.
With the VC fund supporting up to 25 per cent of the project cost at concessional interest rates (10 per cent on debt), Meshram claims to be the first SC entrepreneur to set up a roller flour mill with a capacity of 120 tonnes a day over 3.5 acres at Saoner in Nagpur. He says he decided to set up the flour mill, Prowess Ind. Pvt Ltd, given the booming demand in the bakery industry. “Our population growth suggests that the demand for maida, tandoori aata, chakki aata and rava (sooji) will not go down. In a competitive market, if I provide quality products at a good rate, my business will take off,” he says.
He also plans to apply under the new procurement policy that requires government departments to buy 4 per cent of their requirement from Dalit entrepreneurs. “Of 126 PSUs, 60 have their own canteens. I will be the only supplier because there are no other SC entrepreneurs with flour mills. I have spoken to three departments. The 4 per cent norm is not mentioned clearly in many tender documents. I will fight for this,” he says.
AVICHAL DHIWAR, 50 (PUNE)
Dalits, entrepreneurs, Venture Capital Fund, Dalit entrepreneurs, Dalits Venture Capital Fund, Dalits VC fund, Avichal Dhiwar, Gurpreet Singh, Abhitabh Meshram, Praveen Kamble, Vijay Kolaventy, Sunday Story, The Indian express
Project: Automated drinking water unit VC funding: Rs 3.99 crore
As a Dalit politician who has dabbled in small business ventures, the relevance of affirmative action in entrepreneurship is not lost on Avichal Dhiwar. His new company, a packaged drinking water facility that aims to process 8,000 litres of water in an hour, is named ‘20th March Venture Pvt Ltd’, inspired by Babasaheb Ambedkar’s historic march on that day in 1927 to Chavdar lake in his native Satara district.
“The lake had remained out of bounds for Dalits. But that day, they drank water from it,” says Dhiwar, who became general secretary of the Maharashtra unit of the BSP five years ago.
Son of Janabai Nivrutti Dhiwar and Nivrutti Kisan Dhiwar, a labourer in an ammunition factory who died when Avichal was hardly in his teens, he did many small businesses to make ends meet. Between 1985 and 1995, he would rent out colour TVs and VCRs. Dhiwar, a BA from Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University, later set up a kiosk that provided telephone and photocopying services.
It’s not that he never dreamt big. The idea of setting up the drinking water facility first came up a few years ago. But, says Dhiwar, at least four banks — Bank of Maharashtra, Indian Bank, IDBI and Punjab National Bank – denied him a loan “on some pretext or the other”. “Some said, go for a smaller loan… This is like saying, don’t try to become too big for your caste!”
Dhiwar says that though banks are required to provide funds to disadvantaged sections, it’s tough for a Dalit to get a loan. “A lot”, he says, “depends on the branch manager”. “When people don’t see merit just because you are a Dalit, it is an assault on your self-respect,” he says.
With the VC Fund offering Rs 3.99 crore of the Rs 7 crore he needed for the project, Dhiwar has now begun applying for government clearances to set up the facility. He has bought land on a 20-year lease and mortgaged both the land and the building, besides contributing Rs 30 lakh from his own savings, to avail of the VC funding. “I have got individual contributions of Rs 2-3 lakh from 47 people, most of them Dalits,” Dhiwar says, adding that he hopes to begin commercial production within a couple of months.
To be launched initially in Nashik, Sholapur and Nagpur, he hopes to take his 20th March brand nationally. “It will be hygienic. No cutting corners. It will compete with the big brands,” says Dhiwar, who is studying for an MBA.
Dhiwar believes that there not too many SC entrepreneurs and the VC Fund will struggle to find takers. “Its success depends a lot on how the scheme is implemented, the processes it follows and the flexibility it provides,” he says.
For him, money is not everything. “We need to give back to the society. For Dalits, it’s about self respect. We need to create and provide jobs, not beg for them.”
PRAVEEN KAMBLE, 34 (NAGPUR)
Dalits, entrepreneurs, Venture Capital Fund, Dalit entrepreneurs, Dalits Venture Capital Fund, Dalits VC fund, Avichal Dhiwar, Gurpreet Singh, Abhitabh Meshram, Praveen Kamble, Vijay Kolaventy, Sunday Story, The Indian express
Project: Mobile app and web portal for gift cards VC funding: Rs 1.42 crore
It was through a WhatsApp message first and later an advertisement in a Marathi newspaper that Praveen Kamble got to know of the VC Fund for Scheduled Castes. “I told myself, why not take a shot.” That’s how Talenticon Consultancy Private Limited —“the first government-funded private e-commerce venture,” as Kamble calls it — came about. A 2001 electronics engineering graduate from the Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology, Nagpur,  he hopes to create a digital market place for second-hand gift vouchers. “Many people do not use gift vouchers. But others may want to buy such vouchers at a discount. Talenticon is building a market platform to buy and sell second-hand vouchers,” he says.
Kamble has come a long way. His father Bhagwan Meshram was a lab assistant at Dadasaheb Dhanwate Nagar Vidyalaya in Nagpur and struggled to bring up his four children. “He earned just about Rs 2,000 a month, and we could buy only one pair of new clothes a year,” he says.
Today, he heads a team of 18 engineers, and hopes his e-commerce site goes live well before Diwali.
Kamble has committed Rs 22 lakh of his savings for the Rs 3 crore venture. He is hopeful IFCI will consider relaxing some of its conditions such as asking for collateral even for debentures. “Business needs funds, but at what cost? If you are funding a new venture, you have to take risks. What is the difference between a loan-giving bank and a venture capital fund if one has to mortgage his family home for funds,” he says. Meanwhile, he is also sounding out his Dalit friends about the VC Fund for SCs. “I am helping software professionals from other places as well. In IT, valuation of a start-up is a big problem. And IFCI is a traditional lender,” he says.
VIJAY KOLAVENTY, 48 (HYDERABAD)
Dalits, entrepreneurs, Venture Capital Fund, Dalit entrepreneurs, Dalits Venture Capital Fund, Dalits VC fund, Avichal Dhiwar, Gurpreet Singh, Abhitabh Meshram, Praveen Kamble, Vijay Kolaventy, Sunday Story, The Indian express
Project: A 4 MW solar park VC funding: Rs 14.68 crore
He was the doctor who always wanted to be a businessman. The son of an IPS officer, Vijay Kolaventy did an MBBS from Nagarjuna University in 1993 and joined work as resident medical officer at the Vizag Steel Plant. But within a few months, his entrepreneurial instincts got the better of him. After experimenting for a couple of years in sectors as varied as IT, mining and energy, he started what he claims was India’s first Internet Service Provider, Starnet Online Services Ltd, in 1998. He also launched the country’s first e-sewa project — Saukaryam, an online civic services portal for the Vizag municipal corporation — for which he won a $20,000 UNDP award.
But Kolaventy feels he could have done more. “All my initiatives could have been scaled up. But it is difficult for an SC entrepreneur to raise resources,” he says.
His latest venture, Abhyudaya Green Economic Zone Pvt Ltd, sells mini solar power plants to aspiring SC entrepreneurs. The project has received an in-principle sanction from the VC Fund for SCs. “This is a first of its kind venture in the solar power segment. I plan to strip a 4 MW solar power project in Ranga Reddy District into 20 small 200 KW units, each costing Rs 1.62 crore. Ten of these units have been sold to individual SC entrepreneurs,” he says.
His company already has a power purchase agreement with the Telangana State Southern Power Distribution Company Ltd at the rate of Rs 6.49 per unit of power.
“I came up with this project in 2010 but it is seeing the light of the day only now. But nationalised banks rejected it. They made the SC entrepreneurs run from pillar to post. They do not have a problem funding a 100 MW project, but when you try and innovate, they look the other way. The most unfortunate part is they took a year to deny them a loan, despite the fact that the entrepreneurs provided collateral,” complains Kolaventy. Now, finally, Maanaveeya Development and Finance Ltd, the Indian subsidiary of OIKO Credit, a private micro-finance and development bank headquartered in the Netherlands, has sanctioned loans to the 10 SC entrepreneurs.
IFCI VC is funding 50 per cent of his Rs 30 crore solar park. “I am contributing 25 per cent equity. The remaining amount I have raised from Corporation Bank. Earlier, I never disclosed I was Dalit, and never availed of concessional funding. But given the capital subsidy the state provides SC entrepreneurs, and given the nature of my project, I had to tap banks for funding,” he says.
Banks, he alleges, “seriously discriminate” against Dalits. “A bank manager was keen to buy two mini solar power units. But when I told him that this project was only for SCs, he refused the loan,” says Kolaventy.
The Dalit community, he feels, “needs more entrepreneurs”. “Most SCs study hard for a job, not to start a business. It will take a couple of generations,” he says.
Kolaventy says social discrimination is a reality for most Dalits. “I experience it on trains. The person sitting next to you talks well, but  when he asks for your caste, you notice the difference,” he says.


Dharam Pal

January 2008

Dharm Pal is a 49 year old Dalit businessman from the local Chamar community of Haryana. Born in Madana Kalan village in the Jhajjar district of Haryana, he lives with his four children, wife and parents at Samalkha, Panipat. Three children are studying and the eldest son is helping him in business. His father, who was an agricultural labourer, and educated up to the primary school, a very hard workingperson has been a source of motivation..

Dharampal has Master’s degree and has worked in a nationalized bank for nearly 12 years. He took voluntary retirement 15 years back and started his own business asa brick supplier and over the years diversified his business. Today, he can becounted among successful businessmen. He owns a restaurant, a shopping complex,a milk agency and also works as a property dealer in the town. Apart from hiseldest son who works with him, he has recruited a staff of 25 persons in different businesses.
He recollects his journey when his father was given 2 acres of land under theLand Reforms Act by the state government. While the land was officially allottedto them, it was not easy to get possession over the land. He helped his father indealing with the local authorities and finally decided to sell the land and move toSamalkha. This was the turning point of his life. Remembering the scooter whichhe purchased in 1986, he became a brick kiln supplier and eventually bought abrick kiln. At one point of time, he claimed, he was the largest supplier of bricks,supplying from 22 brick kilns to different parts of Haryana. He thought of movingto another business which could be more sustainable and cost effective and this was how he started his hotel Mehul, named after his youngest son. All this way, he did not get support of any kind from any source and sees to be a self-made person. It was only after his property and details and his influence that he could take loans from Banks.

Dharampal is well aware of his caste identity and wishes for upward mobility. He has been an active member of several Dalit organizations. Lately, he has become politically active and is an important member of the state unit of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). But for effective and successful politics, he states that, “we need to align with the dominant castes as we cannot go very far on our own and our community is very weak without resources”. He believes that education helpedhim succeed in life. He wants to serve the Dalit community since they are continued to be treated badly in society.  

Ram Singh
(Photo not Available)
Ram Singh is a senior photographer at Samalkha, Panipat. He belongs to Chamar community of Haryana. He came from very poor family background . He startedworking with a photographer and learnt the skills of operating a camera. In 1977he could raise a loan of Rs. 3000 to open a shop of his own in the local market.There was no other photographer in the town at that time and partly because of his skills of photography earned popularity in the area which enabled him to fetchlot of work/contract from all sections of society. People flock from far off placeseven now when there are several photography shops in the town.He has four sons who support him in business, and have been attending college aswell. One of his son is planning to move to Australia to pursue a professionalcourse in management for which he has been trying to get education loan fromthe bank. Ram Singh strongly believes that whatever he earned is the hard work,he put in. Personally he did not experience discrimination, yet he states that it isa reality of life for a large number of Dalits, particularly those from poor background.He holds the view that caste acts as a barrier in business life. He apprehends thathe could have managed more sucess had he not been a Dalit. Non-Dalits can easilymanage to hire people of their own caste for works like photography. However,the quality of work helped him to get recognition. Ram Singh was also thepresident of photographers association, which does not exist anymore now.

Ratan Lal Sirswal

Ratan Lal Sirswal
Ratan Lal, 75 year old, is one of the most Dalit businessmen of Panipat city. Hebelongs to Valmiki community who migrated to Panipat long back. His parents wereengaged in the traditional occupation of scavenging and were illiterate. He couldnot receive formal education. He has two sons and four daughters. He is runninga Dye House and is helped by his youngest son.He was working as a sweeper earlier with state government but wanted to leavethe traditional occupation. For sometime he worked as contractor and cultivatedland as a tenant. In 1947, he set up a handloom unit at Panipat. He had contactwith some non-Dalit Punjabis, involved in the handloom business who helped himstart the business. For a long time Ratan Lal continued to work as a scavenger in the local municipal corporation along with his business and later gave up his job once his business took-off. He feels that caste plays a very important role in achieving success in business.Discrimination was always a part of business and social life. Once the caste identitywould be revealed, the business collapsed. As he put it, ‘Valmiki ka naam lete hi saanp kaat jata hai ’ (once people become aware of Valmiki
, they behave like bitten by a snake). Several of his customers did not want to continue business with him after they got to know about his caste background. Even though he has always tried to keep good relations with members of other communities, theshadow of caste never left him. People continue to discriminate. He articulatedhis agony in following words:“If we were to name our enterprise on the name our caste, Valmiki, orintroduce ourselves by caste name, everything (in business) will be finishedovernight”.His 30 years old son, who is running the business now, continues to have similarfeelings.. The ‘culture of discrimination is very deep rooted’, he argued. He hadmany stories to tell about how his business was affected due to his caste. It driveshim angry knowing that despite good knowledge of his business, he faces hardships.The non-Dalits, happen doing well even if they have no background in the businesssimply because of their caste. When people ask him his caste, he often tells themthat if ‘he revealed it, he will be reduced to dust’. He wants that his childrenshould not face such discrimination and seeks to give them best available education.Ratan Lal did not get any financial assistance from any source partly because of no Valmikis in banks and unawareness of financial assistance given to ScheduledCaste for business. He     has been socially very active in the community life of  Valmikis of the town and played an active role in constructing the famous  Valmiki Templein the city. Ratan Lal is well aware of knowledge of Hinduism and Sikh religion, and   the popular history about the contributions of Valmiki to cultural traditions of India.

Mukesh Gautam

Head of Manned Guarding
Profile
Management professional with over 22 years of comprehensive multifunctional experience in India & Abroad with overall management of the Business Operations - Business development, Operations, Service Delivery & Commercials.
FUNCTIONAL AREAS
Business Development / Operations -
Successfully handling the entire gamut of functions related to overall business development & operations in the Physical Security/Manned Guarding , Tower Guarding, &Facility services . Formulating & implementing winning business strategies for the growth of business opportunities Ensuring Deployment plans, Monitoring operations & risk mitigation . Making Business Presentations, to target customers at the high End & corporate decision making level for strategic business in Risk Managementof handling multiple branches and regions.


Administration & Facilities -
Heading the Admin Department; effective Security /facility management with least turnaround time. Purchasing, Vendor Management: Implementing Strict SLAs for all vendors for ensuring best services with maximum cost optimization, Sourcing, Office Administration., Security Management, Building Management systems, Liasoning with various government authorities &Ministries Conducting regular quality checks Supervising the day to day Office Management activities.


Commercial / Accounts -
Materials /Stores / Purchase: Independent charge looked after Materials, Logistics & Purchase functions Material movement, Planning, Stock reconciliation, consumption as per BOM, and have successfully handle logistics. Accounts statements, Account receivables, Account Payables, Budgeting cash flow, Branch Accounting, Labor and contractual payments, dealing with Banks, Salary statements etc. services. Manage all India operations and own the SLA with the clients. Pan India Experience 

Employment history


PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE

BCL Securepremises (Since Oct.2010): Head - Guarding (Sales & Operations)
Is an end to end Integrated Security solutions & Facility provider is one of the emerging leaders in the Indian Security Industry. The strategic partnerships and alliances include global leaders like Gilardoni (Italy), EMESCO (Israel), ESCAPE Rescue Systems (Israel), DiagNose (Israel), VERINT (USA) and KCA (Taiwan).Looking after Pan India Guarding Services. BCL SP has solid financial banking from the diversified businesses of the Kanoria group. As Shristi Corporation, SREI, & Quippo group.

Skylark Securitas Pvt. Ltd. (March 2010to Oct 2010); Head - Business Development (Corp).


Security & Facility Management Company with global presence. Established in 1987 and specializing in world class B to B services... With an Annual Turnover of 120 Cr and employee strength of 28,000, Skylark- has successfully established a network of 45 branch offices, 7 training academies and 12 recruitment centers all across the country. , Leading team of Pan India - Sales, in Regional & Zonal offices, with international offices in U.S.A, U.K and Canada.
Premier Shield Private Limited. (2006 to Feb 2010) : Head - Business Development (Corporate)
A leading Risk Management Enterprise with global network providing complete non financial risk mitigation services, operating in 78 cities across the country and internationally through its own office at Dubai, Bahrain & Bangladesh. Develop and direct resources for locations - risk assessments, incident reporting, investigation, safety, physical security, intelligence, guard force operations. Provide operational, tactical analysis and planning for emergency situations at location, including crisis planning/response, hazard mitigation and business continuity. Communicate and direct effective Risk mitigation strategies ensuring appropriate controls.


Future Systems Pvt. Ltd. (2004 - 2006): General Manager- Projects.


A leading US based ITES, BPO Company, into Market research & Project management. Profile includes Generating new business accounts looking after all Business development activities, in Corporate, Telecom, White Goods, Banking, Insurance, & Educational sectors. Manage Key customer Accounts & Client interaction. responsible for managing entire operations as per Service level agreement, and Manage the Team and Process in various portfolios with managing Customer Services department With Escalation.
Network Inc / Shiva Industrial Security (2000 - 2003):Industrial Security & Facility Management Group in providing consultancy & Security management as Sr. Associate in -NCR. Profile includes Business development overseeing operations and consultancy work in provisioning Manpower outsourcing work with MNCs, Corporate and industrial Houses Ensure delivery of commercial aspects of the outsourcing agreements, recruitments as well as standards of service to agreed SLA's
Garden Dinner - A unit of Sana Inc. New York, U.S.A. (1997 - 1999):
A downtown up market Facility Company with Hotel & Chains of Restaurants worked as Officer In charge Administration & Facilities, Looking after vendor development and Manage Third Party Service Providers and their deliverables, Interface with Internal & external customers, Housekeeping services and recruitments, with overall responsibility of Facility and floor management corporate customer relation & Retention issues.
Gurind India Pvt.Ltd. Noida. (1993 -1996): Noida Sr. Manager - Commercial
A leading Float Glass processing company in Toughened, Laminated, Bend, Beveled Glass etc, looking after Purchase, Excise- Returns & compliances, Materials, Transportation, Billing, Invoices, and Branch Accounting, Liasoning with local authorities in all commercial & Taxation matters, include Administrative Issues.
Hotel Best Western Mela Plaza. (1991 -1993): H.O.D- Purchase & Controls
A Unit of Best Western Surya group as. Responsibility includes Facility Management (Soft Services), Stores, F & B Controls, Finalisation of yearly Contracts, Issuance of Purchase /Work /Standing orders, controlling MIS & Cost reports.
Amalgamated Bank of New York .U.S.A. (1989 - 1991)
As Supervisor Reconcilement & controls for various Branches in Cash, Cheques and Branch Accounts Handling reconcilement for for Deemat, Counters and pension accounts. With complaints and escalations, and handling departmental issues (Customer) with Federal bank In Manhattan, NY.
Consulate General of India, New York, U.S.A (1986 -88 )
Worked in Councilor Department in Passport, Visa and commercial section. Involved in Processing of Visa & Passport queries / with facilitation work for commercial section in Market Research & Visa Services in accordance with policies of Govt. of India.


Education 

Post Graduate Diploma in Materials Management.
. M. COM (Prev.) from Rajasthan University Jaipur.
. B.COM from Rajasthan University, Jaipur.
. Matriculation from Kendriya Vidhyalya, Khetri Nagar, Rajasthan
. Certificate course from Environmental Protection Agency, New York, U.S.A


Preferred area of employment



New Delhi /NCR

The curious phenomenon of dalit entrepreneurship
The last two years have seen the emergence of dalit entrepreneurs in the national scene, suggesting a remarkable change in the Indian business landscape. Is it for real?


papers over the last year or two, she would be thrilled. In them, she would find numerous mentions of an avalanche of dalit entrepreneurs who have become millionaires over the past few decades. 

Rand was a fierce believer in both laissez-faire capitalism as well as the triumph of the individual, as embodied in her famous hero, Howard Roark. She railed against placing others above the self. Now, it seemed that after millennia of unimaginable oppression, dalits were able to harness the power of markets and the spirit of Roark and rise to the top.

Case and point, Rajendra Gaikwad, 50, founder of GT Pest Control, a Rs 8 crore company. "I didn't have chappals to walk to school in. A bicycle was a distant dream," he says. His family was often refused food at public functions at his village in Maharashtra and he had to endure heaps of insults for many decades. Today, Gaikwad drives a BMW, lives on the 17th floor of a high rise and has started yet another company, which makes conveyor belts that he estimates will book around Rs 30 crore in revenue this year. (Click here for table & chart)

In an effort to recognise the near-superhuman efforts of entrepreneurs of dalit business folk, like Gaikwad, the government recently awarded the Padma Bhushan to Milind Kamble, founder of the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI) and a head of a Rs 101-crore construction empire, as well as Kalpana Saroj, head of Kamani Tubes, both who came from hard scrabble backgrounds.

But how representative is this spigot of success? Moreover, why is it important to get an accurate measure of how well dalit entrepreneurs have done?

Dalits represent close to 17 per cent of the Indian population, or 200 million people who have been brutally suppressed for millennia, and confined to 'Manu'-dictated occupations of scavenging, leather work or sewer-cleaning. This doesn't just leave enormous psychosocial scars on this community. It also isn't good business. Economists point to India's lost percentage points in gross domestic product growth simply because a large and potentially productive segment of the population is deprived of economic opportunity. So, gauging how well dalit businesses do has larger ramifications for the country.

And, how have they fared? Not terribly well, says Surinder Jodhka, a sociologist at the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, New Delhi. Jodhka conducted an ethnographic survey of two flourishing industrial towns�"Panipat and Saharanpur�"and discovered that most dalit enterprises there were self-run and into very basic businesses and services such as shop-keeping and carpentry. Only a percent or two had started capital-intensive enterprises such as hotels and factories. Plus, only nine per cent of these mostly first-generation entrepreneurs�"largely between the ages of 20 and 40�"were able to take bank loans.

For sceptics of surveys, Jodhka's findings are reinforced by a study done by political scientist Ashutosh Varshney, who teaches at Brown University, US, along with Harvard Business School professors Lakshmi Iyer and Tarun Khanna. Studying the numbers from the Economic Census of India, which enumerates every non-agricultural enterprise in the country, the trio revealed that as late as 2005, SCs (Scheduled Castes) owned only 9.8 per cent of all the 42 million enterprises that employ around 99 million workers in 2005, well below their 16.4 per cent share in the total population.

More damning is that the national share of enterprises owned by SCs in 2005 was virtually the same as it was in 1990. Gujarat, which booked blockbuster growth of 8.5 per cent between 1999 and 2008 (versus 7.2 per cent nationally), similarly reported the same seven per cent share in SC-owned businesses in 1990 as well as 2005. "These entrepreneurs are real and to be welcomed," says Varshney, referring to the millionaire dalit entrepreneurs. "Without the post-1991 environment, they would not have emerged. But they are a very, very small proportion of the population," he cautions.

So, how does one account for another survey spearheaded by scholar Devesh Kapur, who chronicled an unprecedented increase in the wellbeing of dalits in the same period? This study surveyed 19,000 dalit households in two clusters of villages in Azamgarh and Bulandshahr, backward districts of Uttar Pradesh, where respondents were asked to compare their fortunes between 2007 and 1990.

The results were astonishing. Twenty-two and fourty-five per cent of the surveyed families in Azamgarh and Bulandshahr respectively, owned television sets in 2007 versus negligible numbers in 1990. While 40 per cent of them made a living removing carcasses in 1990, only 2.4 per cent did so in 2007. Most importantly, the survey reported considerably improved social standing. A significantly greater number of dalits were not seated separately at the wedding of grooms in the village (22.7 per cent in 1990 versus 91.1 per cent today in Azamgarh, with very similar figures in Bulandshahr). Today, a majority of non-dalit visitors to both villages readily accept food and drink, compared to almost none in 1990.

Is there some way to reconcile these seemingly divergent studies?

As Kapur et al's paper explains, "Migration has clearly been a powerful engine of dalit empowerment", which in turn brings cash to dalit households in villages and creates a labour shortage there, thereby "enhancing the bargaining power of dalit households… and weakening traditional clientilist political structures." (Clearly, Ambedkar knew what he was talking about when he identified the city as the site of dalit liberation). At the same time, however, dalits suffer from a severe shortage of assets. "A Jat farmer may have five acres or more, but these people have Rs 30,000 or Rs 50,000 at best and no income generating assets of their own," says Jodhka. Which means banks are seldom willing to lend to this community, depriving them of much needed capital to grow their enterprises. Then there's the 'network effect', where dalits are unable to leverage their community, like, say, the Agarwals in the sweets business, to their advantage.

This shouldn't be surprising. Most people have the opinion that market economies and the private sector are neutral agents, indifferent to hierarchies, and functioning on merit. Yet, a few years ago, sociologists Sukhadeo Thorat and Paul Attewell, in an experiment to test the urban labour market, submitted three fake job applications for every listed opening over a 13-month period�"one with an easily identifiable upper caste Hindu name, another with a Muslim name and one with a typical dalit name. All three had very similar fake educational qualifications and work experience. A regression analysis of the outcome showed that for every 10 upper caste Hindu applicants selected for an interview, only six dalits and three Muslims were chosen.

In a separate study, Jodhka and sociologist Katherine Newman conducted detailed interviews with human resource managers of 25 large firms in New Delhi. All the managers insisted merit was the sole determinant in hiring decisions. Yet, every manager also said "family background" (including the educational level of parents) was crucial in sizing up a candidate, something which would instantly put most dalit candidates at a disadvantage. "One must take the profession of deep belief in meritocracy with a heavy dose of salt," say the authors.

In other words, while dalits have posted measurable gains in their own lives, there is nothing to show that a similar widespread trend is taking place in the entrepreneurial realm. If they do succeed, it is primarily because of an indefatigable spirit and a belief in oneself that helps them claw their way to the top. Ayn Rand would be pleased.

April 25, 2011
Dalit crorepatis: The Other Temple Entry

Thirty Dalit businessmen have defied odds and caste prejudice to become billionaires  in their own right
Anuradha Raman
“I weep when I cruise past my village in my BMW. My chauffeur thinks I’m crazy when I ask him to stop the car by a huge tree. I get out and rest in its shade. I give it a hug and even talk to it.”
—Ashok Khade, chairman, Das Offshore Pvt Ltd, Mumbai
The tree Khade stops by falls on the way to his village Ped in Sangli district in Maharashtra, and is the very place where his father made a living as a cobbler. Young Khade’s caste marked him out for exclusion—from the village ground, the well, its water, the temple—almost everything. Education held the lone hope in this dark abyss, and Khade clutched firmly at this straw, sweating it out at the Mazgaon docks during the day and studying for a diploma in mechanical engineering at night. It wasn’t easy; there were times when he had to live under staircases because he could not afford to pay the rent. But determination and hard work eventually paid off. Today, Khade presides over a business empire that is worth Rs 550 crore and has a workforce of 4,500 people. Das Offshore undertakes construction assignments for offshore rigs, and also builds skywalks or foot overbridges.

Khade and 30 other businesspersons, including a woman, are now part of a league of ‘Dalit crorepatis’, comprising first-generation entrepreneurs who run successful businesses and give jobs to others. And they haven’t used the ladder of quotas to get to the top, preferring instead to strike out on their own, cocking a snook at the cynics who disapprovingly cluck at the very mention of an inclusive society based on positive discrimination. Propelled by sheer grittiness and tremendous self-belief, they have arrived at a juncture far removed from their predecessors and have acquired a clout their forefathers wouldn’t even have dreamt of. So much so that the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) is trying to formalise an association with their body, the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI).

And they are by no means done yet. “Every time I look at Fortune magazine’s list of billionaires,” says Milind Kamble, CMD of Fortune Construction Company, Pune, “I wonder when one of us will make it to the list.” When he says “one of us”, Kamble is referring to the country’s most oppressed community, the Dalits, making it to the world’s list of the richest. Incidentally, Kamble takes some measure of pride in one of his recent projects—laying the pipeline supplying water to Baramati, the pocketborough of Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar. “Mein Pawar ko pani pilata hoon (give him water, literally, but the phrase could also mean get the better of someone),” he says jocularly.Outlook’s list of 30 Dalit crorepatis (sourced from the DICCI) is far from complete; members of the chamber say the numbers are likely to increase as more entrepreneurs come forward. But what makes each of these success stories that much sweeter is the fact that it has come after years of fighting a system whose very structure is designed to keep Dalits out. Not only that, many of the enterprises are in areas not traditionally open to the community.
As Surinder S. Jodhka of the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University puts it, “It is a tough struggle in a market where businesses are run on networks and caste lines, and being a Dalit often means no land and virtually no assets. The discrimination is not just on the lines of untouchability, a whole structure of stereotypes is built around them—that they lack the required skills or can’t speak good English—which takes time to work around.” Besides, Jodhka points out, the informal sector is brutal and exploitative, while shrinking avenues of employment in the government sector in the face of liberalisation have meant that the oppressed classes have had to perforce step out and try to forge networks as they rise up in the open market—the very reason DICCI was set up in 2005.
The market, say many of these Dalit entrepreneurs, is not quite the leveller it is often made out to be. The poor and socially backward find credit facilities to start something big hard to come by. Admits Kalpana Saroj, chairperson of the Mumbai-based Kamani Tubes, which she took over after clearing a debt of Rs 140 crore, “Being a woman and a Dalit, it was really tough to make the grade.”Married off at the age of 12, Saroj took a loan of Rs 40,000 from Allahabad Bank to purchase a few sewing machines and employed women to stitch and embroider garments. But ambition got the better of her and she moved soon enough into real estate and construction, using that money to buy Kamani Tubes eventually. The company started small, but today boasts a turnover of Rs 100 crore. Her next project: to buy a helicopter before Diwali!

Did her Dalit background inhibit her in any way? “One has to move forward,” Saroj says philosophically, adding that the initiative has come from her side. “Not all Dalits can become businessmen,” notes political writer Chandra Bhan, “just as not every bania (traditionally traders) is a businessman. The Dalit crorepatis show how success is possible within the system.”

Once a business gets going, though, getting loans becomes easier for expansion and diversification. Devjibhai Makwana from Bhavnagar, Gujarat, found it difficult to source funds when he tried to set up a unit manufacturing multi-filament yarn used in fishing nets. But now things have changed, as his son Nagin Makwana explains. “My father struggled to get a loan, now there is no dearth of bankers queuing up to offer credit. We have a BMW now and our business of multi-filament yarn can only look upwards.” Currently, the Makwanas’ Suraj Filament has a turnover of Rs 300 crore.

Success, however, has not made these Dalit crorepatis turn their back on where they came from. Instead, they are striving to uplift their brethren, whether by example or through community service. Since education is what liberated them from the chains of caste, Saroj, Khade and others have opted to open schools in their villages. Dr Sushant Meshram, whose father worked as a waiter in an ordnance factory and who himself went on to become a fellow at the Johns Hopkins University, is now putting the final touches on a multi-speciality state-of-the-art hospital in Nagpur which will be open to the public in a month’s time. “Fortunately, I was a bright student and did well in college. We are socially backward but we have chosen not to be economically backward,” he says.

There is also the more celebrated example of IIM graduate Sharath Babu, who grew up in the slums of Chennai and whose mother sold idlis for a living. He went on to study at BITS Pilani and then IIM-A and started the eatery chain Food King four years ago. With his business yielding an annual turnover of Rs 7 crore now, Sharath decided it was time to repay the faith people reposed in his abilities. And so he contested the recent assembly elections in Tamil Nadu. He feels people like him should join politics to rid it of its bad name.
And where does the state figure in this saga of Dalit emancipation and inclusion? Six decades after Independence, the state seems to have confined itself to playing the welfare card with its schemes for the scheduled castes. Employment of Dalits in the private sector is still voluntary though the idea was mooted in 2007. And predictably, the business lobby was quick to raise concerns of quality taking a hit should it implement the suggested inclusive agenda, even as they would publicly declare that the market does not discriminate on lines of caste. Given this scenario, the number of backward castes making it to top-level positions is virtually an impossibility. Something that irks Professor Anil Gupta of IIM Ahmedabad no end. The state, he says, has disengaged itself from where it should actively be helping. “Why is that the state still engages in the skill development jargon for the poor and talks of leadership development for the rich? How many leadership institutes do we have in states where there’s a larger scheduled caste population?” he asks.Ironically, inclusion is an initiative being taken by some Dalits themselves. IIT Roorkee graduate Harish Bhaskar, who started the Kota tutorials in Agra, takes pride in the fact that almost all castes come to him to gain an entry to the elite IITs. Started 10 years ago, Bhaskar says he is trying hard to persuade members of his community to take education seriously. “Most of them are too scared to look at IITs and IIMs, and there are few people to guide them,” he says.
Not all, however, are hurrying to raise a toast to this group of 30. Some fear the lobby of Dalit crorepatis might well be gobbled up by big business as other enterprises have been by an unsentimental market. Others say poverty and backwardness are still endemic to most castes and not much should be read into the lavish lifestyle and BMWs of Dalit businesspersons.

Which is not to say that new Dalit entrepreneurs should not be helped along, and the field be made open to all. Karnataka announced a slew of policies last year that ranged from a Rs 10 crore budgetary allocation for the welfare of SC/STs and credit at 4 per cent rate of interest by the state finance corporation to 40 per cent subsidy on land. Says Baalu of the Karnataka chapter of small enterprises: “The state can intervene with loans on easy terms of interest, easy credit and subsidies on land—as are made available for the big business houses.” Adds professor Y.S. Alone of JNU: “All industrialists thrive on government money and support. They are opposed to reservations but welcome tax cuts, subsidised loans and many such government measures which are another form of reservation.”
Ask the Dalit crorepatis, and they say they don’t see the need for reservations for their children. Let others not as fortunate as us avail of its benefits, they say. They are set on consolidating on the gains they have made so far. And maybe get into Fortune’s list of billionaires. With a firm named Fortune Constructions, Kamble just might make it there.
Top 10 Dalit Crorepati 
Natha Ram, Chairman, Steelmont Pvt Ltd, Mumbai, Turnover: Rs 600 crore
Ashok Khade, CEO, Das Offshore Engineering, Mumbai, Rs 550 crore 
Kalpana Saroj, Chairperson, Kamani Tubes, Mumbai, Rs 100 crore 
Milind Kamble, CMD, Fortune Construction Company, Pune, Rs 101 crore
Sanjay Kshirsagar, MD, Sound Concept, Mumbai, Rs 100 crore
Devjibhai Makwana, CEO, Suraj Filament, Bhavnagar, Gujarat, Rs 300 crore 
Swwapnil Bhingardeve, MD, Khandoba Prassana Sakhar, Pune, Rs 90 crore
Malkiat Chand, CEO, Janagal exports, Ludhiana, Rs 70 crore
Dr Sushant Meshram, Multi-specialty hospital in Nagpur, Rs 40 crore 
Avinash Jagtap, CMD, Everest Spun Pipes, Pune, Rs 35 crore
***
20 Emerging ‘Dalpatis’
Sushil Kumar, MD, Simlex Engineers, Noida, Rs 25 crore
Mahavir Singh, MD, Tricon Buildcon, Delhi, Rs 16 crore
Rajendra Gaikwad, MD, GT Pest Control, Pune, Rs 15 crore
Pradeep Nagrare, MD, P.K. Nagrare Construction, Nagpur, Rs 15 crore
Dilip Bhai, CEO, Amba Synthetics, Bhavnagar, Rs 15 crore
Jeetu Makwana, MD, Millennium Industries, Bhavnagar, Rs 10 crore
Sharath Babu, CEO, Food King, Chennai, Rs 10 crore
Harsh Bhaskar, Director, Kota Tutorials, Agra, Rs 10 crore
Devanand Londhe, MD, Payod Industries, Pune, Rs 7 crore
Raju Neele, MD, Sunrise Auto Pack, Aurangabad, Rs 7 crore
Sukesh Ranjan, MD, ABS Beverages, Lucknow, Rs 7 crore
Bijendra Singh, MD, Kabeera Printo Graphic, Faridabad, Haryana, Rs 6 crore
Nand Kishor Chandan, MD, Samrat Ashoka Buildwell, Delhi, Rs 5 crore
Madan Lal Khinder, MD, Rattan Brothers, Jalandhar, Punjab, Rs 5 crore
Lalit Bhansod, MD, Comsolve Mediatech, Pune, Rs 4 crore
J.S. Phulia, MD, Signet Freight Express, New Delhi, Rs 3 crore
Shishupal Singh, CEO, Sangam Exports, Delhi, Rs 3 crore
Shammi Kapoor, MD, Buildtech Engineers, Ludhiana, Rs 3 crore
Devki Nandan Sone, MD, Hotel Taj Plaza, Agra, Rs 3 crore
Sudhir Chaudhary, CEO, MD Plastics, Gurgaon, Rs 3 crore
 by National Academy For Dalit

The economics of caste inequity
Latha Jishnu / New Delhi

Reactions to the caste question are fairly predictable in India. The average (upper caste) response is that the policy of reservations has gone on far too long and that discrimination is very much a thing of the past. As to why certain social groups remain extremely poor and backward despite the legal safeguards, the usual explanation is that Dalits are either not well educated or do not have the merit to make it to good jobs.
Blocked by Caste should come as an eye-opener to those who subscribe to this view. It proves that the social and economic exclusion of Dalits (and Muslims) continues to be pervasive in a nation that speaks the global language of meritocracy and level playing fields but has been unable to shed historical caste prejudices. Edited by Sukhadeo Thorat, professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), the book brings together empirical researches undertaken by the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies (IIDS) in Delhi over the past six years, and is the first major attempt to study the linkages between caste discrimination and economic outcomes.

This set of scholarly essays by economists and sociologists sheds light on some significant issues, such as the role that caste plays in private sector employment, the correlation of university education and employment prospects for the marginalised groups, of public health services to health outcomes and patterns of caste discrimination in rural markets and wage structures.
What it does reveal is that the dominant Brahminical ideology, which categorises the Dalit and the Muslim minority as the ‘other’, has tinted the view of the private sector to a large degree. Economic discrimination is a subject that has received little attention and this book focuses on contemporary patterns of discrimination in various markets, labour in particular, along with discrimination in the delivery of public goods and services by the  government.
Some of the research in this volume is modelled on landmark studies on race discrimination in the US, specially the novel experiment conducted by Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan which firmly established the employment discrimination faced by Blacks in the US. The two sent out fictitious resumes to job advertisements in Boston and Chicago newspapers using White as well as Black names with similar qualifications for the two sets. What they found was that Black name job-seekers needed to send out 15 applications to 10 sent out by White name candidates and that a Black needed eight more years of experience to get the same callbacks as Whites.
Thorat and Paul Attewell, professor of sociology at the University of New York, used a similar methodology in India to arrive at similar conclusions. They sent out three sets of applications for jobs advertised in major dailies over a 13-month period, using a stereotypical high caste Hindu name, a recognisable Muslim name and a distinctive Dalit name. The consistent result: applicants with Dalit and Muslim names had a significantly lower chance of a positive outcome than persons with a high caste Hindu name.
Another significant US study, which revealed the stereotypes Chicago employers had of Blacks (poorly educated, low skilled, unreliable and unruly), resulting in unequal employment outcomes, inspires similar research in the Indian context. Katherine S Newman, professor of sociology and director of the Institute for International and Regional Studies at Princeton University and a co-editor of this volume, and Surinder S Jodhka, director of the IISD and professor of sociology at JNU, uncover the hidden nuances of caste prejudice in  the language of globalisation that contemporary India speaks. In a pilot study carried out in Delhi, they interviewed 25 human resources (HR) managers in 25 large firms which have manufacturing capacities and retail outlets across the country and employ over 250,000 workers. The two researchers found that the HR bosses, one and all, swore by merit in their choice of candidates and were dead set against reservation of jobs. But, the commitment to merit was voiced along with the conviction that merit tends to be distributed by caste or region! Such stereotyping, they found, made it impossible for highly qualified, low-caste applicants to be hired for their skills and accomplishments. In sum, employers were not “caste blind” as they claimed.
In another study, Ashwini Deshpande, professor of economics at Delhi University (DU), and Newman tracked 108 students from JNU, DU and Jamia Millia Islamia for two years. The main findings: Dalit students bring different level of resources compared to non-Dalit students. Worse, employers question the legitimacy of reservations and by that logic, the legitimacy of these students’ credentials.
These are among the more accessible essays in this collection. A few are meant purely for the econometricians and the overdose of mathematics and formulae can be daunting for the lay reader. On the whole, Blocked by Caste offers a commendable body of research that could prove extremely useful to policy-makers in designing programmes and policies to end this pernicious practice.

BLOCKED BY CASTE

Economic Discrimination in Modern India
Edited by: Sukhadeo Thorat and Katherine S Newman

Self-Employed Scheduled Castes in Northwest India
Surinder S. Jodhka
Working Paper Series
Indian Institute of Dalit Studies
New Delhi
2010
Foreword
Indian Institute of Dalit Studies (IIDS) has been amongst the first research organizations in India to focus exclusively on development concerns of the marginalized groups and socially excluded communities. Over the last six year, IIDS has carried out several studies on different aspects of social exclusion and discrimination of the historically marginalized social groups, such as the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribes and Religious Minorities in India and other parts of the sub-continent. The Working Paper Series disseminates empirical findings of the ongoing research and conceptual development on issues pertaining to the forms and nature of social exclusion and discrimination. Some of our papers also critically examine inclusive policies for the marginalized social groups.
The paper “Dalits in Business: Self-Employed Scheduled Castes in Northwest India” draws insights on the expansion of private capital in India during post-1991 period which also marked important ideological shift. Not only did the Socialist rhetoric grow mute, but emerging markets and middleclass came to occupy the central stage. The paper focuses on Selfemployed Dalits in business and small-scale entrepreneurship. Apart from reflecting on the consequences of expanding private sector, such as constriction of the space of historically marginalised groups in India; the paper addresses unsought questions of collective prejudice emanating from tradition which has not only crippled their prospects in the markets but are known to shape their self-image and identification. It is argued that while the available data provides broader indications of the employment patterns yet questions related to the patterns of their social and economic mobility, kinds of barriers encountered in the process of setting up their enterprises remain unanswered. Indeed, it becomes important to explore the issues of how and in what ways caste matters in business and entrepreneurship, specifically in subtle mannerism and bias; varying from difficulty in getting enough supplies on credit, lack of social networks, absence of kin groups in the business and control of traditionally dominant business caste groups. These along with other social variables such as lack of social capital, make the Dalit situation in India more complicated and vulnerable to homogeneous categorization. The paper highlights that caste is a social and political reality that haunts the Dalit entrepreneurs  and not mere past tradition or value-system that is found incompatible with contemporary market economy. 
This paper was completed at the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies as a background paper for the World Bank Report on Poverty and Social Exclusion. Indian Institute of Dalit Studies gratefully acknowledges the World Bank for supporting this study. We hope our Working Papers will be helpful to academics, students, activists, civil society organisations and policymaking bodies. 
                                                                                                                                               Director IIDS

Self-Employed Scheduled Castes in Northwest India
Surinder S. Jodhka

1. Introduction
In its attempt to respond to emerging challenges of post-Cold War world India initiated a process of reforms in its economic policy during the early 1990s. These reforms proved to be an important turning point for the country in many different ways. Under the new regime, the state began to withdraw from its direct involvement with the economy. Private enterprise was allowed and encouraged to expand into areas of economic activity that were hitherto not open to it. Though some scholars have pointed to the fact that the growth of private capital in India began to accelerate during the early 1970s , it is during the post-1991 period that the private capital in India experienced expansion at an unprecedented rate. This expansion was not merely in terms of growth rates and profits, India also experienced an important ideological shift during the 1990s. The socialist rhetoric that had been so central to the Nehruvian idea of planned development lost its charm. Markets and middle classes came to occupy the centre stage of India’s cultural landscape, displacing the emblematic ‘village’ and its poor peasants. The Nehruvian state had also  orked-out its own modes of dealing with those who had historically been on the margins of Indian society. The quotas or reservations in government sector jobs and state funded educational institutions was the core of the state policy for the development of Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs). 
Growing privatization of India’s economy and declining avenues of employment in the state sector also meant shrinking of jobs available under the quota system for reserved categories. The expanding role of private sector in technical and professional education could similarly contract the space given to the historically marginalized groups in India’s higher education system. It was in response to the growing restiveness among a section of the Dalit intellectuals about this negative implication of liberalization policy that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) proposed extension of the quota system for SCs and STs to the private sector upon coming to power at the Centre in 2004. In its National Common Minimum Programme, the new government made an unambiguous statement in this regard:
The UPA government is very sensitive to the issue of affirmative action, including reservations, in the private sector. It will immediately initiate a national dialogue with all political parties, industry and other organizations to see how best the private sector can fulfill the aspirations of scheduled caste and scheduled tribe youth . 

Apart from the proposal of extending the quota regime to the private sector, there have also been proposals of encouraging and supporting direct participation of the historically marginalized groups into the private economy as entrepreneurs and capital holders.
3  Though the State is called upon to play an active role in the process by provision of economic support through loans and regulation of markets, the emphasis is on development of entrepreneurial culture that can enable Dalits to participate in the private sector and informal economy on equal terms. However Dalits are not only poor, they also face discrimination in the labour market. Interestingly, the fact about the marginal status of Dalits and their continued discrimination in the urban labour market finds recognition in one of the recently released official documents, the 11 th Five Year Plan:
….In urban areas, too, there is prevalence of discrimination by caste; particularly discrimination in employment, which operates at least in part through traditional mechanisms; SCs are disproportionately represented in poorly paid, dead-end jobs. Further, there is a flawed, preconceived notion that they lack merit and are unsuitable for formal employment

 What are the ways in which Dalits in the urban labour market negotiate with prejudice and discrimination? What are the experiences of those who have tried to venture to set-up their own businesses and enterprises? The available social science literature on caste, or on labour markets, tells very little about these realities.
Academic writings on caste have invariably tended to look at it as a traditional system of social hierarchy and culture, which is expected to weaken and eventually disappear with the process of development or modernization. Caste was thus researched in relation to rural social order, kinship networks, religious life or traditional occupations, and mostly by social anthropologists and sociologists. Economists who worked on “hard” questions of development rarely treated caste as a relevant area of inquiry. In the mainstream understanding of text book economics, development or market were essentially secular or socially neutral and anonymous processes. Similarly, the social science understanding of entrepreneurship has typically revolved around the notion of a rational individual operating in a supposedly free-market economy.

2. Focus and Research Objectives
Nearly two-thirds of the 16 per cent Dalits  of India are either completely landless or nearly landless with virtually no employment or income generating assets of their own. Over the years, many of them have also moved away from their traditional caste occupations. In some other cases, such occupations have either become redundant or non-remunerative. With the process of mechanization, employment in agriculture has also been steadily declining. With changing aspirations and state support, larger numbers of Dalits are also getting educated and looking for employment outside their traditional sources of livelihood. However, the organized sector is able to provide meaningful employment only to a small number of them. Thus a larger proportion continues to work in the informal or unorganized sector of the economy as casual wage workers. Some of them have also ventured into self employment. 
According to the 61st Round of NSS (2004-05) a little more than 29 per cent of all the urban Scheduled Caste households were in the category of self employed. Though this number was significantly higher for the OBC (nearly 40.3 per cent) and ‘other’ (nearly 38.6 per cent) categories of households, the number of Dalits in the category is also quite significant . Similarly, though the proportion of Scheduled Castes owning private enterprises was significantly lesser than their population in urban areas (around 7 per cent against their population of around 12 per cent) their presence is not insignificant
.
While the available data provide us with some broad indications of the employment patterns among different categories of workers, yet they leave many questions unanswered, such as: who are these self-employed Dalits;
what has been the pattern of their social and economic mobility; what kinds of barriers do they encounter in the process of setting-up their enterprise and in carrying-on with their businesses; How do they mobilize initial resources for investment and what is the nature of difficulties they encounter in getting bank loans and raising money from the market; do they experience any kind of discrimination in the process of their interactions with different kind of markets; are there only a few niche areas where Dalit entrepreneurship is concentrated and if so for what reasons; how do they survive in the urban setting and what kinds of supports are they able to mobilize in such endeavors for employment and social/ economic mobility; does kinship and other social network or their absence play any role in successes and failures of Dalit enterprises; do the “soft” and “hard” skills acquired from their family background and upbringing help or hinder their mobility?

3. Field Sites and Data Collection
Demographically, the Scheduled Castes are often treated as a single/homogenous and pan-Indian category of traditionally marginalized and excluded section of population. However, their development trajectories vary significantly across regions and across communities within the Scheduled Castes. This is also true about Haryana and Uttar Pradesh from where we chose two towns (Panipat in Haryana and Saharanpur in UP) for the field study.Field work for the study was carried-out during the first half of 2008.
In terms of the SCs population, the two states are quite similar and both have fairly large proportion of Scheduled Castes (Haryana: 19.30 percent and U.P.:21.10 percent). Though UP is a much larger state and unlike Haryana quite uneven in terms of development indicators; the Saharanpur district of western UP is more like the Panipat district in neighboring Haryana than the eastern part of UP. The two towns are also similar in terms of their location in proximity to the national capital, Delhi.
The agrarian change experienced with the success of Green Revolution in both these regions had far reaching implications for the social structure of the village. If on one hand it led to fragmentation of the village; on the other, it loosened up the hold of dominant castes over the Dalits and provided opportunities to them to move out from the village and agrarian employment. However, notwithstanding this common trajectory, the nature of change experienced on the ground was not similar for the Scheduled Caste populations of the two states. This can be seen from the available data on the patterns of employment among Scheduled Castes across the two states. While more than 44 percent of the urban Dalits in U.P. were in the category of self-employed, their numbers in Haryana was lesser, at par with the national average (29.4)

Socially and politically also, the Scheduled Castes of U.P. have been more vibrant. Some pockets of Uttar Pradesh have had a history of entrepreneurship among the Dalits. Haryana, on the other, has not been known for any such dynamism. The two states also present quite contrasting pictures of political mobilizations and assertion. While U.P. has virtually become a model state where a Dalit woman has been able to come to power through caste mobilizations, no such trends seem visible in the case of Haryana. It was keeping in mind some of
these similarities and differences that we decided to look at Dalit entrepreneurs in two primarily urban settings of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The towns chosen for the fieldwork were not very far from the capital city but they were not too close either. While Panipat is around 95 kilometers from Delhi and Saharanpur is around 130 kilometers from Delhi.
3.1 Panipat is one of the important urban centres of Haryana. In history books, the town is known for the three crucial battles that were fought here. The town also witnessed a large scale migration during 1947, when a large
proportion of the local Muslim population left for Pakistan, and in its place the Punjabi Hindus and Sikhs, who had left their homes in western Punjab (Pakistan) settled in the town, and in many of its adjoining villages. Though the local Bania traders continue to be powerful community of the town, it is the Punjabi, mostly Hindus but also some Sikhs from trading caste backgrounds, who have emerged as the dominant community of the town in the post-independence period.
In 1989 Panipat was separated from Karnal district and made into a separate district. The city of Panipat was made its headquarters. According to the Census of 2001, the total population of Panipat district was little lesser than a million (967,449) of which nearly 16 per cent were from the Scheduled Castes. A large majority of the SC population lives in rural areas (72 per cent). The total population of the city of Panipat in 2001 was 268,899 of which nearly 10 per cent were Scheduled Castes. With a population of 63,662 the Chamars were the largest community among the Scheduled Castes in the district, followed by Balmikis (39,509) and Dhanaks (12,912)
.
Over the last 20 to 30 years, Panipat has emerged as a vibrant urban centre of the region, through its industrial development. It is home to a good number of public sector industries including a thermal power station, a fertilizer company and an oil refinery. It is also a major centre of small and medium scale industries and has come to be known as a city of weavers. It is one of the largest centres of handloom and rug industry and local entrepreneurs earn a large amount in foreign currency through export of textile/yarn. As the official web-site of the city administration states:
There has been a very high growth of handloom sector in Panipat during the last 15 years. Handloom is the most important sector of the town. At present there are more than 40000 handlooms working in the district providing employment to 45000 persons. Majority of the
weavers are migrants from U. P., Bihar and West Bengal. There are some local weavers also who come from neighbouring villages to
work at Panipat in Handloom Units

It further claims:

Shoddy industry has picked up sharply in Panipat during the last 15 years. Panipat town has got the distinction of having maximum number
of shoddy spinning units at one particular place not only in the country, but in the world, leaving far behind the position held by Italy. There are more than 334 shoddy spinning units in the district with production of 3.90 lacs kgs per day with turnover of worth Rs. 592.65 crores providing employment to 7000 persons

3.2 Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh in terms of size and population, is quite bigger than Panipat. According to the 2001 census, total population of Saharanpur district was nearly three millions (2,896,863 with 2,149,291 rural and 747,572 urban). The city of Saharanpur is an administrative headquarter of Saharanpur district and also of Saharanpur division. Surrounded by fertile agricultural land famous for plentiful yields in grains and fruits, Saharanpur is one of the most flourishing cities of Uttar Pradesh. The city has been internationally known for its wood carving cottage industry. A variety of agrobased industrial enterprises like textiles, sugar, paper and cigarette factories are located here. 
Population of the city of Saharanpur is also larger than Panipat. In 2001, the city had a total population of 452,925 persons. While the proportion of Scheduled Castes in the district is 22 per cent, only around 11 per cent of them live in urban centres of the district. Of the total population of the city, the SCs made for a mere 9 per cent. Here too, Chamars account for the largest SC group (546,674) and their number is higher than any other SC community (Balmikis: 46,063; Kori: 20,059)  Though unlike Panipat, out-migration of the Muslim population at the time of partition was not very significant, a large number of Punjabi migrants from western Punjab were settled in the town of Saharanpur after 1947. Their social composition was very similar to those of people settled in Panipat, mostly from trading castes. With more than 39 per cent of the total population of Saharanpur being Muslims, it has been identified as one of the Minority Concentrated Districts, by the Government of India.

4. In search of Dalit Entrepreneurs: Mapping the Universe We began our fieldwork with Haryana. We first visited Panipat during May 2008 and tried to locate people who we thought would be able to help us in the fieldwork. These were mostly people working with the locally active Dalit groups. While it was easy to locate Dalit activists, it was not so easy to locate a Dalit entrepreneur. They simply were not there in big numbers. We were a little dismayed and had to think of an alternative strategy for fieldwork. We decided  to hire a local educated Dalit and asked him to spend few weeks and prepare a comprehensive list of Dalit commercial establishments. Since there were not too many in the area that our local researcher could have located, we then asked him to extend the net to the entire district of Panipat, and if required, to the neighboring town of Karnal. As we proceeded with the listing process, we were able to locate a total of 126 enterprises run by Dalits in Panipat and Karnal (including the town of Samalakha located in the district of Panipat). We decided to use the same method of mapping the universe for Saharanpur. We similarly identified a Dalit activist group and appointed a local research assistant. As compared to Haryana it was easier to locate Dalit enterprises in Saharanpur. He was able to make a list of 195 Dalit entrepreneurs within a month’s time.
We had a total 321 Dalit entrepreneurs (DEs) enlisted for us in the two towns. As we expected, a large majority of them had rather modest set-ups, run by relatively young Dalit men and had been in existence for relatively brief period of time. Except for seven women (around 2 per cent), the rest were all males. However, our universe mapping also sharply pointed to the important internal differences in the patterns of social mobility across Dalit communities. As mentioned above, though the schedule list contains a large number of communities, the two predominant groups in both the states are those of Chamars (traditionally identified with leather work) and the  Balmikis (traditionally identified with occupation of scavenging). This is also reflected in our mapping of the universe. A larger proportion of Chamars (67.3 per cent) in comparision to Valmikis (25.9 per cent) were active in the urban economy as entrepreneurs . The other Dalit groups such as Khatiks (4 per cent) and Dhanaks (0.9 per cent) were also present but nominal.
When exactly did Dalits begin to get into entrepreneurship? As is evident from Table 1 only one of them was set up prior to 1950 and another one during the following decade. The next 20 years did not seem to have been good for Dalit entrepreneurship. A total of 3 respondents reported that their enterprise had been set up during the 1961 – 1970 decade and another 5 during the subsequent decade (1971 to 1980). In other words, of the total universe of 321 only 10 (a little above 3 per cent) were relatively old enterprises. 
The growth of Dalit entrepreneurship took-off in both the settings only during the decade of 1980, and more vigorously after 1990s. What kind of enterprise did they run? Our mapping data tends to suggest that a large majority of them have entered into very simple kinds of businesses, mostly in the localities of their domicile. Of the seven women we could locate, six had small grocery shops. However, as shown in the Table below, there is a fair amount of diversity in the kind of enterprise that Dalits own and run in the two settings
Most of the enterprises are rather modest in size. They did not employ too many people, so generally run by the entrepreneur himself/herself alone (71 per cent). Only 7 out of a total of 321 had more than 10 persons (other than
the self) working with them. Dalit entrepreneurs did not have very active or strong links with the banking system. A large majority of them had set up their businesses from their personal savings. Only 28 of the total 321 or less than 9 per cent (9 in Panipat and 19 in Saharanpur) reported having taken bank loan or aid from the government agency for starting the business.

II
5. The second phase of fieldwork: Having mapped the universe, we moved on to a more intensive phase of fieldwork where we interviewed a purposively selected sample from the universe of Dalit entrepreneurs that we enlisted in the first phase. We conducted a total of 57 interviews in Panipat and Karnal and another 61 in Saharanpur. Our respondents did not necessarily represent the universe in proportional terms. We selected our sample keeping in mind the diversity of the universe and tried to cover different categories of enterprises in these interviews. We also discovered some new cases during the second phase, some of whom were interviewed for the study. Our interview schedule consisted of a total of 74 questions covering different aspects of being an entrepreneur and a Dalit.
In the third phase we conducted focused interviews with some of the respondents who had also been interviewed in the second phase, and who seemed to provide us with interesting details. Apart from interviewing individuals, we also conducted focused group interviews with Dalits. With a few exceptions, our respondents were easy to talk to. However they invariably wanted to know about the possible benefits they could expect from our study.Most of them were aware of the larger Dalit politics and state policies for Dalits. Some of were keen to know our caste background and to affirm our intentions for speaking to them. Some expressed excitement about the study.They were invariably those who had been relatively more successful and wanted to share their experience of struggle and upward mobility.

III
6. Who are Dalit Entrepreneurs? As mentioned above, our sample case studies were selected purposively with 
the objective of covering different categories of DEs. However, they closely resembled the universe we had mapped. Of the 118 cases we interviewed, four were women, two each from Haryana and UP. In terms of age most of our respondents were relatively young, in the age groups of 20 to 40 (nearly 80 per cent of all the respondents). Only three of them were above the age of 60. A large majority of them (81.4 per cent) were married and had medium size families of an average of 5 to 6 members. A little less than one-fourth (23 per cent) lived in joint families and the rest reported to be living in nuclear families. When asked about their religion, a large majority of them identified themselves to be Hindus (except for 8 who said they were Buddhists). However, for a good number of them, Hinduism appeared to be a mere demographic identity and not really a matter of faith or passion. There was hardly any one who seemed excited or proud while reporting their religion as Hinduism. “You could write Hinduism, if you must” or “we are Dalits, but we are clubbed with Hindus” were some of the typical answers. Some of them were even more vocal in expressing their annoyance at being classified as Hindus. 
As a  Chamar respondent from Panipat put it: Itni sadion ki beijjati ke baad bhi hum Hindu dharm ka bojh dho rahe hain (even after having suffered so much humiliation for centuries, we are carrying the burden of being Hindus).
As expected, virtually all of them were first generation entrepreneurs. Only one of them inherited some kind of business set-up from his father.  The question of father’s education predictably had similar responses. As many
as 68 per cent reported that their fathers were either illiterate or had received education only up to the primary level. Involvement with traditional occupation of fathers or the families, from which our entrepreneurs came, varied
significantly across caste groups. Only Balmiki and Chamar respondents reported that the families they came from were involved with traditional occupations and amongst them two-third were Balmikis. Of the 32 Balmiki respondents as many as 23 (72 per cent) reported that in one way or the other their parents’ families had been involved with the traditional occupation of scavenging. This proportion was much smaller for Chamars (15 out of a total of 78, which works out to be 19 per cent).
Along with the enterprise they were primarily involved with, some of the respondents continued to pursue a secondary occupation (nearly 20 per cent).The secondary occupation was not necessarily their traditional occupation, or the past occupation. Since most of them had rather modest businesses, it was possible, and often desirable to have more than one economic activity for a viable sustenance. In some other cases, the entrepreneurs had simply diversified into various activities, such as running a restaurant and also being a property
dealer, or running a small grocery shop while also working as a school teacher. 

6.1 Where did they come from? The fieldwork was carried-out in urban centers however, it should be pointed
out that a large majority of Dalits in the two states live in rural areas, muchlarger than the proportions for the total population . Given that we worked in urban settings, a majority of our respondents (56 per cent) were born in urban/semi-urban areas. The proportion of those who continued to live in rural areas was even smaller (30.5 per cent). Thus along with setting-up of enterprise, some of them had also migrated to urban areas. Nearly, 20 per cent of all our respondents reported as being migrants, either from within the state or neighboring villages, or from another region of the country. In some of these cases, migration had helped them “hide” their caste background. 
For example, a successful Dalit business family in Panipat was originally from Rajasthan and migrated to Panipat during the 1940s primarily for setting-up their businesses. Only one of them had initially migrated to the town but over the years several of the kins joined him and now they run half a dozen shops in the town. Some of them also run successful businesses as whole-sale dealers in electronic goods. However, in the local market very few knew about their caste background and are known by a caste name of the locally dominant community. It was only through our local contact that we were able to motivate one of them to speak to us. His other kin refused to speak to us when we told them that we are working on Dalit entrepreneurs. 
He too repeatedly told us about the “story” of their having been down-graded in caste hierarchy for some local political reasons: “We are Rajputs but got caught in a local conflict and were reduced to the status of Chamars. That is the reason why we left Rajasthan. Once we lost our caste identity, what was anyway left for us there?”

6.2 Education and Training Educationally the family context of an average Dalit entrepreneur does not appear to be very different from the larger community they come from. Nearly 68 per cent of the respondents have illiterate or nearly illiterate fathers. Educational level of mothers was even worse (nearly 90 per cent being illiterate). The proportion of those whose fathers were educated up to high school or above was around 20 per cent. The proportion of respondents who had mothers educated up to high school and above was less than 2 per cent. However, our respondent’s appeared to be very different from their parents. There was only one Balmiki respondent who reported being completely illiterate. Nearly 30 per cent of them have gone to college or university for a degree (B.A. and above). Another 31 per cent had successfully completed their school up to class 10 or 12. Interestingly, there were no significant variations across caste groups in the level and nature of education among our respondents.
Apart from the general education, nearly one-fourth (24.6 per cent) of them had also been to a technical institute and had acquired some diploma or degree. Nearly half of them also reported that they acquired the technical skills required for the business or enterprise that they were running informally, by working with someone who was already in a similar business. Around 12 per cent reported that they were into a business where they could use their inherited skills. These were mostly the ones who were in leather related businesses. Only around 14 per cent had acquired the skills they were using in running their businesses, formally, through a university degree/diploma. Education continued to be a positive value with our respondents in their attitude towards their children. All those who had children, boys or girls, of school going ages were send  schools and were acutely aware of the role that education could play in the further mobility of their families.

6.3 Getting Started A typical Dalit in business is a first generation entrepreneur, relatively young and educated. However, not all our respondents started working as entrepreneurs. More than one-third of them had been employed in various other occupations (wage labour: 21 per cent; traditional caste occupation: 3.4 per cent; government jobs: 12.7 per cent; and one of our woman respondent reported that before opening the shop she was engaged in housework). They also started their businesses with quite a small amount of capital. As shown in Table 5, a good number of them (nearly 41 per cent) started their business with an investment of 25,000 rupees or less. Another 22 per cent had invested more than 25,000 rupees but less than 50,000. The number of those who began with more than 100,000 rupees was also not insignificant. However, none of them began their businesses with a very large amount of investment.In most cases the source of initial investment either came from their own savings or was raised from informal sources, mostly from other members of the family/close relatives (59 per cent) or friends (around 8 per cent). Only around 18 per cent of them reported having taken loan from a formal institution, such as a commercial bank, at the time of starting their businesses. The number of those reported having taken loans after having established their business was also not very large (around 21 per cent). Interestingly, the number of those who were aware of special financial schemes for Dalits starting independent enterprises was much larger (50 per cent). Many of them either did not approach a bank out of some kind of cynicism or were simply refused loan for want of a good reference or an asset against which the loan could be approved. Their caste background indeed played a role here, a point we will discuss in greater detail below. However, the number of those who had never heard about special schemes for Dalits was also equally large (50 per cent). What motivated them to get into the business? The sources of motivation were of two kinds. First were those who simply had no employment and saw it as a source of livelihood. They somehow managed some money and invested it in a small kirana shop or some other such activity. However, some others saw in their new occupation a source of dignity. It helped them move out of village and traditional caste based occupation. Doosron ki gulami se achha hai ki apna kaam kar lein (it is far better to have ones own business than to be a slave of others), was the typical response we received from many. Business in town offered a better quality of life for the person working and for the family. For some of our respondents business was also a way of proving to themselves that they too could do something meaningful, which would not only give them income and dignity but also generate employment for other members of the community.Who helped them start the business? For nearly two-third of them, the most important source of support came from their families, their parents or extended kinship. Nearly one-fourth of them reportedly did not receive any support, and were entirely self-motivated. A few of them also reported receiving support and encouragement from their friends. One’s social links with the wider community and with other communities were of crucial importance in settingup a business. However, not everyone could mobilize such contacts. While a large majority of our respondents were indeed first generation entrepreneurs, many of them had members of extended kinship in the business, though not for very long. Nearly 40 per cent of them reported that they had a close relative or friend in a similar kind of business activity. What kinds of problems did they encounter while starting their businesses? The two most frequently reported problems that a new Dalit entrepreneur faced were related to mobilization of finance and being able to find a structure/ shop where the enterprise could be set-up. In both aspects, caste variable almost always plays a negative role for the Dalits. A well-established Dalit businessman in Panipat found it very hard to rent-in a place from where he could run the cooking gas agency, which he was able to get because of his being an ex-serviceman.Since almost everyone knew us in the town, no one was willing to rent out a shop to us. It was only because of the goodwill of my father that finally a Punjabi gave us his two shops on rent.Some others reported that they were forced to locate their businesses in areas which were not good for the kind of business they were setting-up simply because they could not find proper accommodation for want of resources, or because of caste-prejudice. A few of them also reported having experienced hostile competition and conflict in the market during the early years of their business.

6.4 Size and Growth As mentioned above, majority of the Dalit enterprises are small in size, run mostly as self-proprietorships (96 per cent) and invariably as an informal establishment. Only one of our respondents worked in a partnership. In nearly half the cases (47 per cent) the building from where the business was carried out was also owned by the entrepreneur. However, an equal number of them had rented-in the accommodation. Half of our respondents worked in their establishments just by themselves, without hiring anybody. Occasionally they would take help from other members of the family. The other half of our respondents however, hired labour at different occasions ranging from one to forty or even more.
Though most of the Dalit enterprises had started with meager resources, they appeared to have grown over the years. We did not get clear answers to our question on the pattern and pace of growth of their enterprises but when we asked them about the current market value of their businesses, the responses were positive, and in most cases the value of their businesses had grown many folds in comparision to what they started with. Though more than half of our respondents did not answer our question, there seemed to have been a substantial growth in most cases. Only around 12 per cent of them reported the current market value of their enterprise being less than 50,000. More importantly perhaps, while only 13 per cent of our respondents reported having started their businesses with more than one lakh rupees, the proportion of those who assessed the current value of their businesses being above one lakh rupees was nearly 30 percent of the entire  sample and nearly two-third of all those who responded to the question . The main reason for low response rate to the questions on growth patterns andcurrent value was the informal nature of their enterprise. Most of them maintained no books and filed no tax returns.
Surprisingly, response to the question on their annual turnover was positive.Only 11 per cent of the respondents did not respond to the question. However, more than half of them (53 per cent) reported small annual turnover (less than one lakh). The number of those who reported annual turnover above a lakh of rupees was also significant with 28 per cent reporting a turnover of 1 to 5 lakhs and another 6 per cent reporting it to be between 5 and 50 lacks. Two of our respondent reported a turnover of above 50 lakhs. Location and Functioning Where were the Dalit enterprises located? Was there a concentration of such enterprises into specific types of businesses or localities? 
Since a good number of the Dalit enterprises were small grocery shops, they were mostly located in the Dalit dominated residential areas. In proportional terms, more than one-third (38 per cent) of the businesses were located in areas with a majority Dalit population, which were invariably extension of their living quarters. However, nearly half of the respondents reported that they worked from mixed localities, with a majority of non-Dalit population. These were mostly the local markets. A small proportion of them (6 per cent) operated from completely non-Dalit areas, from the main markets or industrial areas of the town, where, in some cases, they were the only Dalits amidst the upper-castes. With the exception of a few respondents, they faced no discrimination at the location of business. In other words, they had no problems  in running the business from these locations where they were because of their caste.
However, our fieldwork pointed out the presence of some kind of niche areas where Dalits entrepreneurs find it easy to enter and operate. When we asked them if there are other Dalits in the same kind of business, a majority of them (52.5 per cent) reported in affirmative. One obvious area for the Chamars was leather related business. Some of our respondents from Saharanpur and Karnal were into leather business. Interestingly, however, there were also some “secular” spaces which they find easy to access. One of this was opening primary and middle schools. This particularly seems to be the case in Uttar Pradesh where a large number of Dalits run schools. Even in Samalakha we came across a big private residential school being run by Dalit. While it is possible that they initially got into it out of some political motivation for providing education to Dalit children where they do not feel discriminated against on caste lines, in most cases these schools had acquired a life of their own. While some of them continue to be predominately Dalit-run and Dalit-attended schools, many had become quite open and attractive for other castes as well and seemed to be doing quite well.
Otherwise also, our respondents reported that even when the local residents tended to show caste-preference, not many of them had exclusively Dalit clients. Only a small proportion of our respondents (5 per cent) reported that their clients were exclusively Dalits. Another around 14 per cent reported having predominantly Dalit clients. A large majority of them (78 per cent) either had a predominant non-Dalit clientele or mixed clientele. However, their caste identity was not known publicly, to every client.

7. Beyond Economics: Barriers and Supports As is evident from the title of the paper, the primary objective of this study was to understand the caste dimension of the everyday economic life in the regional urban context as it is experienced by those who come from the bottom line of caste hierarchy and have tried to step into areas of economic activities that have been hitherto closed to them for various social and historical reasons.

7.1 Does Caste Matter? A simple answer to this question is in the affirmative. Though we were not quite surprised by the answers we received to our questions on caste, the extent to which caste continues to matter and the subtle and not so subtle ways in which it was being experienced by a majority (not all) of our respondents did surprise us. While caste indeed did matter in businesses, its presence was more pronounced in the everyday life of our respondents. Nearly 63 per cent of the respondents reported having experienced caste related discrimination in their personal/ everyday life. A number of those who reported having faced caste related discrimination in businesses was lesser though not insignificant (42.4 per cent). Those who reported having experienced discrimination in personal life were quick to recall their experiences. A good number of them had their first major experience of caste discrimination during their education in schools or colleges. “My first encounter with caste was when I joined the school”, reported a respondent from Panipat. 

Another respondent put it in sharper language:School mein atte hi bhedbhave ka path padha dia jata hai (one of the first lessons taught in the school is practicing caste discrimination against the Dalits) One of them reported that unlike other children he was made to wash his utensils and asked to keep them away from the rest. A doctor talked about the caste divisions and prejudice which he experienced during his earlier days in the medical college. Those who had moved from village to the town recalled their life in the village where caste mattered all the time. While some recalled the practice of untouchability in the village, others talked about the “oppression” of the dominant caste, the Jats. Some of them also faced caste prejudice and discrimination in the localities where they were presently residing. It was difficult for Dalit to get a house in non-Dalit locality. Even if someone managed to buy or rent-in a house in non-Dalit areas, they were always discriminated by their neighbors. One of them also mentioned his experience of not being allowed to sing in the temple he used to visit.

7.2 How Does Caste Matter in Business? Caste appeared to matter in business in many different ways, directly and not so directly. While some mention their experience of having been treated with prejudice of a general kind, others referred to more concrete problems which emanated primarily from their context of being not acceptable to the larger business community. Even when majority of them did not feel being actively discriminated against in business because of their caste , they could not really get away from it. There is no denying the fact that caste influenced their businesses negatively. The number of respondents who reported that caste affected their business negatively (57 per cent) was much larger than those who felt it was of positive values (2 per cent). The locally dominant communities, who have traditionally dominated the business scene, do not like Dalits getting into business. “They hate us”; “non-Dalits do not like us being in the business”, were some of the common responses from several of our respondents. The Social universe of business has been so completely controlled by certain caste communities that when Dalits come into the business they are invariably
seen as ‘odd actors’. Their caste identity gets fore-grounded, over and above their professional or business identity. This was articulated by several of our respondents in different ways. One of them put it in the following words: While most other businesses or enterprises are known by the service they provide or goods they sell, our shops are known by our caste names, Chamaron ki dukan or Chuhdon ki factory (Chamar’s shop or factory of the Chuhra). Such identifications are not seen by the Dalits merely as a matter of violation of their dignity but also a way of harming their businesses. “It discourages customers from coming to our shops”, reported a shopkeeper in Panipat. 
“Identification of my factory with my caste name tends to discourage my clients. Even when they do not have caste prejudice, they feel we may not be able to deliver because we are traditionally not the ones who have been in business or possess enough resources to run a good business”, reported another entrepreneur who has a “dye-house” a unit for colouring threads used in carpet weaving produced by small scale textile units in Panipat.
This point if further reinforced by the responses we received to the question on their perception on non-Dalits having any advantage over them in running businesses. A large majority of respondents (78 per cent) reported in the affirmative to the question . This appeared to be rather obvious for most of them. As one of them summed it up: Non-Dalits have been in business much before we entered and they climb much faster because they get support from their fellow businessmen. Many of them have become millionaires while we continue to struggle.
Some others had more cynical views on this. As Deepak, a Jatav from Saharanpur put it:While they are always referred to, and identified as businessmen, we continue to be called Chamars by the fellow businessmen and everyone else. 
As mentioned above, some of them actively tried to conceal their caste identity and had the apprehension that a disclosure of caste could affect their business negatively. As many as 48 per cent of our respondents felt so. It mattered more when it involved providing personalized services. One of our respondents, an electrician, was asked to leave when he was working in the house of an upper caste client when they came to know about his caste while conversing with him. ‘Balmiki sunte hee samp katt jaave’ (the moment they heard that we are Balmikis they were stunned as though bitten by a snake), was the response of a Dalit entrepreneur in textile business in Panipat. Similarly, a doctor in Saharanpur reported that: ….the identity of being a Dalit almost always works against us. Patients prefer going to non-Dalit doctors. It is invariably only when they are not cured with their diagnosis that they approach me. Some shop-keepers who have their businesses in non-Dalit areas reported that they often find it difficult to receive the outstanding amount from upper caste customers because of their Dalit background. In the city of Saharanpur also, they complained against the local Muslims. ‘They too behave like the dominant/ upper caste Hindus and treat us with prejudice’. However, on the whole, caste did not seem to matter much with the clients. Nearly half of our respondents simply did not care and said that it had no impact on their businesses.Caste mattered lesser in procuring supplies. Only 5 per cent of all the
respondents reported any kind of difficulties in getting supplies because of their caste. “As long as you can pay, no one cares who you are” was the frequent response to our questions. A large majority of our respondents procured their supplies from local traders. Only around 10 per cent of them were dependent on outsiders, from within the state or from other states of India. However, they faced no caste related discrimination in getting supplies or raw materials for their businesses. This was so when the suppliers in almost all the cases were non-Dalits, mostly from the locally dominant business communities, the Banias, Punjabis or Muslims. While there may be  no direct caste related bias or discrimination that our respondents reported in getting supplies or raw materials, the in-depth interviews with some of the Dalit entrepreneurs revealed that the bias here worked in an indirect manner. Dalits found it difficult to get enough supplies on credit as suppliers were doubtful about their ability to pay back on time. They also found it hard to find guarantors for them. Lack of social networks and absence of other members of the kin group in the business also mattered a lot. As mentioned above, only a small proportion of our respondents (21 percent) were able to get bank loans sanctioned. As one of them reported: Banks ask for guarantee. We do not own expensive houses or plots of land in the city. Neither do we own any agricultural land. Our businesses are also small. Why would banks give us loans?
Several of our respondents had taken money from banks or other government departments under special schemes but the money given under such scheme is too meager to help them start or run a viable business. “You can buy a buffalo or a cow with such loans but can’t run a business”. When we asked them to identify four or five different problems they faced in running the business, one of the first things a large number of them identified with was the lack of finance and their inability to raise money to expand their business. Though several of them also identified caste discrimination, in terms of their business, they invariably viewed the problem of finances as major problem. How did they mobilize money when required? While most of them invested their own meager resources, in emergencies, they invariable turned to professional/ private moneylenders, who always charge high interest rates. Only 23 per cent of our respondent reported arranging money from such sources. The rest either did not borrow, or borrowed from friends and family where they did not have to pay interest.

7.3 The Ways-out How did an average Dalit entrepreneur deal with his/her marginal position in the urban economy and his/her lack of resources? While they all talked about the difficulties they faced in mobilizing finances required for running a successful enterprise and the manners in which their caste background continued to matter even when they moved to a completely “secular” occupation, some of them also responded to questions on how they dealt with caste prejudices and how they plan to move ahead. One of the evident responses was expectations of the state support. They want government agencies to help them by providing cheap and easy loans and protection. However, the more dynamic one had worked out a different course observing that mere loans would not help them. They realized that the problems were primarily social. As one of our respondents from Samalakha (Panipat) vehemently put it: Our main problem is the lack of resources. Our people are poor and also lack confidence to come to cities and try something new. Even those who have the courage, fail to go far. This is because we lack social contacts. We have to build bridges with other communities,
dominant communities. More than the dominant business communities, we have to work with the dominant political community of the state, the Jats. Jats matter much more than anyone else does. If they support and do not oppose us, we can make progress. We were quite surprised to find a good number of our respondents, particularly those who had been successful in business, were invariably also attracted towards electoral politics. They found it much easier to enter into the mainstream political space. Social and cultural spaces seemed more difficult to penetrate. Democratic political process and the system of reserved quota of seats for Scheduled Castes seem to invite them to politics. Success in politics indeed helped them in their businesses. It provided them with some kind of shield in a social environment where they otherwise felt insecure and marginal. They also seemed to be well aware of their move from traditional occupations to new urban occupations and the implications it has for their caste identities and caste politics. We were quite surprised to find that 94 percent of all our respondents claimed that they had some form of association with Dalit movements in their region or the country. Many of them were also involved with local Dalit NGO or Dalit religious organization (63 per cent).These were perhaps seen as ways of dealing with their weak position in the urban market. Their being in secular occupation and with some success also made them politically aware of their rights.


8. Conclusion
Notwithstanding the problems they encountered, no one really had any regrets about the choices they made to come into the new occupation. Nearly all of them faced hardships because of lack of resources and the prevalent caste prejudice, but they all seemed proud of the fact that they were in business and were entrepreneurs. Not only were they doing well economically but also felt that they had dignified existence than before or in comparison with other Dalits. They also felt proud of the fact that not only had they been able to come out of life of slavery but some of them were also in a position to help others by assisting them set-up an enterprise or provide them employment. Many of them looked at themselves as successful role models for other members of their communities. They gave much weight to education and made sure their children, sons or daughters, went to schools. However, they did not want them to experience discrimination and caste prejudice in the schools. To overcome this they sent them to schools being run by Dalits. Some of them were even willing to spend all their savings to send their children abroad, where no one would have any idea of their background, and indeed no one would believe in the social sanctity of the caste system. As we have repeatedly stated above, despite several positive changes, caste continues to play a role in the urban economy, and for Dalit entrepreneurs it was almost always negative. Dalits lacked economic resources, but even when they had economic resources they were crippled by a lack of social resources. However, even though it is true across the entire spectrum of Dalits, it varied quite significantly across different caste communities. The Chamars, who have traditionally been involved with some kind of businesses and were producers and providers of leather, have been relatively more successful than the Balmikis. This was true in both the settings, Haryana and U.P.Dalit situation in Haryana was certainly more vulnerable than in U.P. Apart from a longer history of entrepreneurship among a section of Dalits, U.P. also

has the distinction of having a much stronger Dalit politics to the extent that the present Chief Minister of the state is a Dalit woman. Dalits also have larger proportion in the population of U.P. However, despite this, the general pattern of responses to our questions did not differ much across the two states. Similarly, the experience of caste discrimination also seemed to be shared across caste groups, though it was felt more by the Balmikis than the Chamars in both the states.
The Cartels are invariably controlled by the traditionally dominant business caste groups in the region. As has been shown by studies from elsewhere, community and kinship networks have always played a very crucial role in businesses  (Rutten 2003; Munshi 2007). While one can describe it as a lack of social capital , the Dalit situation in India seems a little more complicated and so is not easily captured through such categories. The collective prejudice, originating from tradition not only cripples their prospects in the market bus also shapes their self-image. Caste is not simply a matter of past tradition or a value system that is incompatible with contemporary market economy, but a reality, social and political, that continues to haunt the Dalit entrepreneurs.
However, the most remarkable thing that our study was able to capture is the fact that even in such adverse circumstances independent entrepreneurship is rising among the Dalits. Apart from hard work and struggle, they seem to be also imaginatively using the available spaces within the system in order to consolidate their position in the market. It is perhaps to counter the prevalent discrimination in the market that in order to succeed a Dalit entrepreneur not only has to be a good businessman but invariably also a social and political entrepreneur.

Endnotes
1 See Kohli, A. 2006 ‘Politics of Economic Growth in India, 1980-2005’.
Economic and Political Weekly Vol. 41 No. 13 April 01 - April 07. p. 1361-70
2 National Common Minimum Programme of the Government of India May 2004.
 http://www.pmindia.nic.in/cmp.pdf p.10. (October 16, 2008).
3 See for example, Aditya Nigam’s ‘In Search of a Bourgeoisie: Dalit Politics Enters a New Phase’. Economic and Political Weekly Vol. XXXVII (13), March 30 2002. pp. 1188-94; P.G. Jogdand, ed., New Economic Policy and Dalits (Jaipur: Rawal Publications, 2000), Gail Omvedt, “Economic Policy, Poverty and Dalits”, in Jogdand, ed., op cit, pp. 55-6.
4 http://planningcommission.nic.in/plans/planrel/fiveyr/11th/11_v1/11th_vol1.pdf (October 17, 2008).
5 For the purpose of this study we have used the term Dalit to be synonymouswith Scheduled Castes all through the Report.
6 NSSO Report No. 516: Employment and unemployment situation among social groups in India 2004-05 (61st round). Different Tables.
7 See S.K. Thorat and Nidhi Sadana (2009) ‘Caste Ownership of Private Enterprises’ Economic and Political Weekly Vol. XLI (23): p. 14.
8 ibid.
9 The Scheduled Caste list of Haryana has a total of 37 communities. However, threee communities of Chamars, Balmikis and Dhanaks together constitute 81.6 per cent of the total SC population of the state. Chamar are the largest groups with 50.8 per cent of the state’s SC population. They are followed by Balmikis (19.2 per cent) and Dhanaks (11.5 per cent). (Source: Office of the Registrar General, India).
10 http://panipat.nic.in/Industry.htm (October 17 2008)
11 ibid.
12 Patterns of SC demographics in Uttar Pradesh are also quite similar toHaryana. It has a total of sixty-six communities listed as SCs and the predominance of Chamars is even more pronounced here. They make for as much as 56.3 per cent of the total SC population. Pasis are the second largest community followed by Dhobis, Koris and Balmikis. These five communities make for 87.5 per cent of the total SC population of the state (Source: Office of the Registrar General, India).26 Indian Institute of Dalit Studies
Volume IV, Number 02
13 Our respondents came from six caste groups, viz. Chamars (78), Balmikis (32), Khatiks (4), Dhanaks (2), Dhobi (1), and Odh (1).
14 As against 79 per cent of the rural population nearly 88 per cent of Dalitsin UP live in rural areas, and against 71 per cent of the total rural population 78.5 per cent of Dalits in Haryana lived in rural areas according to the 2001 Census.
15 The proportion of those who did not respond to the question on starting investment was much smaller (11 per cent against 55 per cent to the question on assessment of current value of their businesses). The main reason for low response rate to the questions on growth patterns and current value was the informal nature of their enterprise. Most of them maintained no books and filed no income tax returns.
16 When asked if they faced discrimination in business because of their caste, as many as 58 percent of our respondents reported negatively. However, rest of the 42 percent did have the perception of being discriminated against in business because of their caste.
17 However there were also those (18 per cent) who did not think that nonDalits had an advantage in business simply because of their caste background.
18 Mario Rutten (2003) Rural Capitalists in Asia: A Comparative Analysis on India, Indonesia, and Malaysia London: Routledge;
Kaivan Munshi (2007) ‘The Birth of a Business Community: Tracing Occupational Migration in a Developing Economy’ www.econ.brown.edu/ fac/Kaivan_Munshi/diamond10.pdf - (November 10 2008);
19 See Bourdieu, Pierre (1986): The forms of capital. In: John G. Richardson (ed.): Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. New York: Greenwood Press. Pp. 241-258. Putman  Putnam, Robert D (1993) Making democracy work. Civic traditions
in modern Italy. Princeton: Princeton University Press 199327 

Appendix: 
Some select life stories:

Dharam Pal
Dharm Pal is a 49 year old Dalit businessman from the local Chamar community of Haryana. Born in Madana Kalan village in the Jhajjar district of Haryana, he lives with his four children, wife and parents at Samalkha, Panipat. Three children are studying and the eldest son is helping him in business. His father, who was an agricultural labourer, and educated up to the primary school, a very hard working person has been a source of motivation.. Dharampal has Master’s degree and has worked in a nationalized bank for nearly 12 years. He took voluntary retirement 15 years back and started his own business as a brick supplier and over the years diversified his business. Today, he can be counted among successful businessmen. He owns a restaurant, a shopping complex, a milk agency and also works as a property dealer in the town. Apart from his eldest son who works with him, he has recruited a staff of 25 persons in different businesses. He recollects his journey when his father was given 2 acres of land under the Land Reforms Act by the state government. While the land was officially allotted to them, it was not easy to get possession over the land. He helped his father in dealing with the local authorities and finally decided to sell the land and move to Samalkha. This was the turning point of his life. Remembering the scooter which he purchased in 1986, he became a brick kiln supplier and eventually bought a
brick kiln. At one point of time, he claimed, he was the largest supplier of bricks, supplying from 22 brick kilns to different parts of Haryana. He thought of moving to another business which could be more sustainable and cost effective and this was how he started his hotel Mehul, named after his youngest son. All this way, he did not get support of any kind from any source and sees to be a self-made person. It was only after his property and details and his influence that he could take loans from Banks.
Dharampal is well aware of his caste identity and wishes for upward mobility. He has been an active member of several Dalit organizations. Lately, he has become politically active and is an important member of the state unit of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). But for effective and successful politics, he states that, “we need to align with the dominant castes as we cannot go very far on our own and our community is very weak without resources”. He believes that education helped him succeed in life. He wants to serve the Dalit community since they are continued to be treated badly in society. Reservations and Quotas helped them but things have become difficult with the changing economic scenario. The government needs to do more for Dalits. Though there are financial schemes for them, but those do not benefit them much. The banks have been given powers to have their own parameters and they have the authority to reject applications for loans using their own subjective criteria. Even when the loans are given to Dalits, the amount is very small. Even for procuring those loans they have to invariably bribe the officials.

Ram Singh
Ram Singh is a senior photographer at Samalkha, Panipat. He belongs to Chamar community of Haryana. He came from very poor family background . He started working with a photographer and learnt the skills of operating a camera. In 1977 he could raise a loan of Rs. 3000 to open  a shop of his own in the local market. There was no other photographer in the town at that time and partly because of his skills of photography earned popularity in the area which enabled him to fetch lot of work/contract from all sections of society. People flock from far off places even now  when there are several photography shops in the town. He has four sons who support him in business, and have been attending college as well. One of his son is planning to move to Australia to pursue a professional course in management for which he has been trying to get education loan from the bank. Ram Singh strongly believes that whatever he earned is the hard work, he put in. Personally he did not experience discrimination, yet he states that it is a reality of life for a large number of Dalits, particularly those from poor background. He holds the view that caste acts as a barrier in business life. He apprehends that he could have managed more sucess had he not been a Dalit. Non-Dalits can easily manage to hire people of their own caste for works like photography. However, the quality of work helped him to get recognition.   Ram Singh was also the
president of photographers association, which does not exist anymore now. 

Ratan Lal Sirswal
Ratan Lal, 75 year old, is one of the most Dalit businessmen of Panipat city. He belongs to Valmiki community who migrated to Panipat long back. His parents were engaged in the traditional occupation of scavenging and were illiterate. He could not receive formal education. He has two sons and four daughters. He is running a Dye House and is helped by his youngest son. He was working as a sweeper earlier with state government but wanted to leave the traditional occupation. For sometime he worked as contractor and cultivated land as a tenant. In 1947,  he set up a handloom unit at Panipat. He had contact with some non-Dalit Punjabis, involved in the handloom business who helped him start the business. For a long time Ratan Lal continued to work as a scavenger in the local municipal corporation along with his business and later gave up his job once his business took-off. He feels that caste plays a very important role in achieving success in business. Discrimination was always a part of business and social life. Once the caste identity would be revealed, the business collapsed. As he put it, ‘Valmiki ka naam lete hi saanp kaat jata hai’ (once people become aware of  Valmiki, they behave like
bitten by a snake). Several of his customers did not want to continue business with him after they got to know about his caste background. Even though he has always tried to keep good relations with members of other communities, the shadow of caste  never left him. People continue to discriminate. He articulated his agony in following words: “If we were to name our enterprise on the name our caste, Valmiki, or introduce ourselves by caste name, everything (in business) will be finished overnight”. His 30 years old son, who is running the business now, continues to have similar feelings.. The ‘culture of discrimination is very deep rooted’, he argued. He had many stories to tell about how his business was affected due to his caste. It drives him angry knowing that despite good knowledge of his business, he faces hardships. The non-Dalits, happen doing well even if they have no background in the business simply because of their caste. When people ask him his caste, he often tells them that if ‘he revealed it, he will be reduced to dust’. He wants that his children should not face such discrimination and seeks to give them best available education. Ratan Lal did not get any financial assistance from any source partly because of no Valmikis in banks and unawareness of financial assistance given to Scheduled Caste for business. He has been socially very active in the community life of Valmikis of the town and played an active role in constructing the famous Valmiki Temple in the city. Ratan Lal is well aware of knowledge of Hinduism and Sikh religion, and the popular history about the contributions of  Valmiki to cultural traditions of
India.

Deepak Jatav
Deepak Jatav is a 51 year old successful footwear manufacturer and designer from Saharanpur and belongs to Jatav (Chamar) community. He is educated up to M.A. His father was a clerk in a government department and mother a teacher in a school. He also runs a fertilizer agency and has four sons who are well educated.He started his business in 1974. Since his grandfather and other relatives were in the business, he picked up basic skills of the trade from them. It was easy to start the footwear business as he was supported by other family members and relatives.30 Indian He completed a professional diploma in footwear designing and in 1976 took a
small loan from a bank for expanding his business. He has been awarded certificate of excellence from a famous shoe company. He is a successful business entrepreneur and does not have any bitter memories of discrimination at personal level but sees that it happens in society at institutional level and affects the business. There are a number of non-Dalits in footwear manufacturing. He has noticed that Dalits get bad deals while the non-Dalits invariably do better. He says that Dalits are called  Chamar in business while non-dalits are addresses as businessmen. They do not get equal treatment in the market. Dalits are  second option for upper-caste traders and non-Dalit traders approach their own community members first. He reflects that government does not recognize them as entrepreneurs and does not support them financially due to which big shoe companies exploit the Dalits. He has a legal case pending against a big shoe company which did not pay him the promised price after getting the shoe manufactured by him. Despite all this he wants to expand his work and is trying to link with international markets. He thinks that Dalits need to be very vibrant and should always look for new opportunities and explore newer things. Deepak is also a social worker and a known politician of the district and has a national position with a Dalit political outfit. He proudly identifies with the vision of Dr. Ambedkar.

Dharm Singh Mourya
Dharm Singh Mourya, 50 year old, is a famous businessman and politician from Saharanpur district and belongs to Chamar community. He is well educated, with an elaborate list of degrees including M.A., B.Ed and LLB. He has two sons and owns a gas agency and a farm house. His father was in government service. He lives in a famous area of Saharanpur called Ambedkar Puram, where only rich Dalits have their houses. At present his business runs into several crores. His elder son helps him in the business. He was allotted a gas agency in 1986 under the unemployed youth quota. He started business with a total investment of around two hundred thousand rupees (2 Lakhs). He did not have enough resources at the time when he was allotted the gas agency. To overcome the economic disability he found a rich person of nonDalit caste to be his partner. He attributes his success to the government scheme of quota for Dalits. Without the quota, he wouldn’t have been able to enter the business. At present he employs more than 20 persons in his business.Now that he is a  successful businessman, he does not experience any discrimination on caste basis. However, he is aware of the fact that almost everyone in the city knows that he belongs to  Chamar community. He attributes his success to his management skills and the formal education, which helped him in understanding the wider social context and the business culture. So far, he has never taken any financial assistance from any bank or government agency. Though he sees himself as a successful person and no longer bothers about his caste, he recalls the kind of discrimination he has faced in his personal life because of caste identity. While recalling his school days and the life in the village, he mentions that untouchability and discrimination were a part of everyday life for almost every Dalit. He vividly recollected the humiliation he felt when he was offered tea in a cup separately kept for Dalits by a non-Dalit family. However, he is not cynical and believes that business depends on good management and skills. The caste factor can be neutralized. At present holding a position with the regional political party, earlier he served  as the Chairman of the Zila Parishad (District council-the highest body in Panchayati Raj System at District level), which is considered to be a powerful position in the district. Dharm Singh says that by faith he is an atheist but has played an important role in maintaining the communal harmony in the district. He has a strong desire to work for the upliftment of marginalized sections particularly the Dalits.

Dr. Mahesh Chandra
Dr. Mahesh Chandra, 25 yearl old, is a medical practitioner by profession. He is awell-known skin specialist and has a clinic in the centre of Saharanpur city. He hails from Buland Shahar, another district of western Uttar Pradesh and belongs to Jatav (Chamar) community. He lives with his wife, two sisters, a daughter and a son. His wife is also a medical doctor. Before starting his own clinic, he was serving in a government hospital. He comes from a poor family background. His father is a small farmer in Buland Shahar. He came to the Saharanpur in 2003 in search of opportunities to start the clinic. Before starting the clinic, he made a survey of several districts. He went to some districts and observed the nature of skin problems people suffered from  and the extent to what these skin diseases prevailed. He came to know that Saharanpur was more prone to skin problems than other districts nearby; so he decided to open a clinic there. In informing people about his clinic, he visited a number of
villages, particularly the Dalit habitations. Initially he faced problems as no one  knew him in the town. He had no social circle to interact with and was not well off financially and  Dalit background was an issue where he often felt discrimination. However, he feels that caste matters only at initial statges of mobility. Most of the times he used to treat Dalit patients. ‘Once your work is recognized you get a lot of work and also respect’. It took him
some time to look for the base for his clinic and to make a name for himself; after  which life was smoother. He has also been in contact with Dalit activists near his residence. Through them he came in touch with people and made Dalit friends who were of great help. He now helps other Dalit doctors to start their clinics in Saharanpur. For establishing the clinic he had taken loan from a bank. He mentioned that being a doctor by profession, the bank gave him loan quite easily.He owes his success to hard work, to his consistent curiosity to read the latest
literature on skin diseases,  networking with people and, of course, to professional medical education. He joined the medical college in a reserved quota for scheduled castes and comments that such reservations help poor people like him. Although he is happy about the medical education he received, but he has many bitter memories of college days, of having been treated differently and caste-based discrimination. The teachers and non-Dalit students never supported or cooperated with the Dalit students. He always felt excluded in the college. He reported that there is no representation of Dalit doctors in the medical professional bodies.Unlike the Dalits, the non-Dalits have great support from their families and friendswhich encourages them to move ahead. Now that he is of  repute and does not feel discriminated, however he is of the opinion that people have tendency to visit their own caste doctor. He wishes to expertise in the field of skin diseases treatment and for this he always tends to update with the upcoming professional knowledge and skills. He has links with international organizations of his field. He desires to prove that Dalits are as competent as non-Dalits and continues to take interest in social and political work of Dalit activities in his town.

Ramesh Chand Puhal
Ramesh Chand Puhal is 61 year old and belongs to Valmiki community of Haryana.He is a famous businessman of Panipat. He is running two gas agencies, one petrol pump and also investments in transportation and agricultural land. He employs more than 25 persons and his assets are worth 50 million rupees. He is educated
up to tenth class, but acclaims to be a scholar of Urdu language and writes poetry. He has published two books and is working on a volume on the famous poet of Panipat origin, Hali. His father was an illiterate person, a sweeper at the local municipality. His family also had a business of buying buffaloes from the local market and taking them to Andhra Pradesh for sale. His father wanted him to be a successful businessman.He has three sons and a daughter. All his children are well educated. One of his sons helps him with his business. Initially, he was helped by a friend from  Chamar community who helped him getting the gas agency allotment. He did not get any financial support from any government agency but after he managed to set-up his business, he took loan from the  bank several times. When he was allotted the gas agency, he had to sell entire jewellery of his wife to raise money for the initial investments. Though he was aware of the government financial schemes, but he did not apply for them. He has bitter memories of discrimination in his life. At school he faced discrimination.And recollects how people used to maintain distance when he would  go to sell milk in the city. Very few people used to buy milk from his family. He mentioned that everyone in the city knows him by his caste name and clearly sees the discomfiture of non-Dalits.   He takes interest in the social and political life of the city and has been a councellor. Though his caste is always fore-grounded, many people of the town respect him as a successful businessman and a kind human being. Various organizations in the town have felicitated him for his work and for
his knowledge of religion and Sufi saints.

Ram Kumar
Ram Kumar, a 35 year Dalit from the Chamar community. He owns and runs a school in Saharanpur, the town where he was born. He is well educated with M.A. and LLB. He has also completed a diploma in mushroom production. He comes from very poor background. His father was uneducated and a low paid worker with a private company in Saharanpur. He is living with his wife and a daughter. His wife also helps him with his business and works as an  Anganwadi worker with ICDS Centre (Integrated Child Development Scheme). He started the school in 1999 with a meager investment. Initially he used his own home for running school. He was inspired to start the school by some of his friends who were successfully running schools in the town. Over the years, Ram Kumar has also helped some other members of his caste background to start such schools. It was surprising to see that a large number of schools in the district are run by Dalit youth. All of them are well educated. After completing his studies, Ram Kumar tried for the government job but could not succeed. The school came as an alternative. It gave him a source of earning livelihood and also a sense of purpose. Now he has bought land for his school nearby his residence and the bank has advanced him loan for construction of the school building. Initially he faced financial difficulty due to which he could not develop proper infrastructure at school. He had to struggle in getting his school recognized by the district education authorities. He experienced that how easy it was for non-Dalits to get things done as compared to the Dalits. The locality where he lives is inhabited by majority Muslims and Dalits. Muslims are a landowning community and most of the students at his school come from Dalit and the ‘most backward communities’ of the nearby areas. He feels that Muslims do not like sending their children to his school because of the caste prejudice.

Only lower caste Muslims, mostly belonging to Teli community send their children to his school. Lately, there has also been some tension between Dalits and Muslims; as he mentioned. The number of private schools run by Dalits in Saharanpur district and the state of UP is surprisingly very large and they have formed their own Association called, ‘The Uttar Pradesh Recognized Schools Association’. Ram Kumar is also a part of this association. They were motivated to form such an Association because of the discriminatory attitude of educational administration towards them. The administration prefers to favour non-Dalits schools as they are owned by powerful dominant caste people. He feels that Dalit- run schools are victims of caste discrimination and are denied several benefits routinely given to other private schools. He expresses that engaging in this profession has earned him respect, particularly among the Dalits and ‘most backward communities’. He believes that the ill effects of caste can be done away with excellence and competitive aspirations. Ram Kumar is also a social worker and helps people in obtaining the  Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards, guides young Dalits to seek good jobs and at times also work for the communal harmony.
Dalit businessmen are India Inc's poster boys

TNN Dec 18, 2011

MUMBAI: Neglected for years, Dalit entrepreneurs are now gaining momentum and getting ready to expand their horizons and do business with industrial houses.
The Dalit India Chamber of Commerce and Industries (DICCI), inaugurated by industrialist Adi Godrej on Saturday, held its first expo in the city to showcase products of member-entrepreneurs. The association has also decided to create a venture capital fund with a corpus of Rs 500 crore.

Cottage industries like handicraft, T-shirts and leather products were showcased at the event. Firms engaged in construction and manufacturing industrial products also featured prominently.
Many Dalits beat the odds to become successful entrepreneurs in their own right.

Yashodhan Ramteke, an electronics engineer, set up a private institute to train engineers in maintaining thermal power plants in Nagpur.

Dr Nanda Kishore runs a 100-bed hospital in Hyderabad are success stories from the community.
"I was lucky to get good education and a job with the Union ministry of agriculture. However, I would back reservation since it would provide the impetus to my community," said Natha Ram, the director of Steel Mont Private Ltd—a Rs 600-crore company set up by Rajesh Saraiya (Natha's son).

Saraiya is India's first Dalit billionaire. Born in a middle class family in Dehradun, Rajesh studied aeronautical engineering in Russia and is now based in Ukraine. 

Kalpana Saroj has done what no Dalit woman in the corporate world could. A school dropout , Saroj is the chairperson of Kamani Tubes Limited.
The company, which makes non-ferrous tubes, had a troubled existence over the past two decades, requiring constant assistance by the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction, following internecine feuds in the Kamani family.
"Supporters and investors turn up if you are focused on what you want," said Saroj.

J Nandakumar has craved a niche for himself in the art world. Having completed his Master's in fine arts from Aurangabad university, Nandakumar held many exhibitions of his paintings at J J art gallery. Many corporates have purchased his art works.

What had this Nation, after 1947, Done to Dalits?

Today, this Nation, produces many Graduates and even Post-Graduates, who it is openly said by many Authorities Officials and Employers to be Unemployable!  That, generally, when it comes to employing and appointing Us SC&ST Dalits anywhere!  But, We SC&ST Dalits, also see by ourselves, those with 95 plus scoring elitist Children and other Individual Scholars, said to be very brilliant ‘first-class first’ or ‘gold-medallists’ often can’t even write a leave Letter Correctly, without any Structural Spelling Grammatical and Composition Mistakes.  And that, most of today’s Graduates can’t even make, or write any Application without Copying.

Why had the Education System Collapsed so, and Failed in spite of the Great Expansion?  It did not Fail?  But it was Failed!  It did not Collapse?  It was made to Collapse!  That, only to keep We SC&ST Dalits out of the System, throw out most of those who manage to get into the system, and even Fail those who somehow stay on inside the System till the last, or turn them into unfit useless poor graduates.
Here are just few, which in many ways are very illustrative and actually are rightly representative.–

1.             Internationally Trading Venkatachalams of PV Sauce and Seven-Seven Condiments of the erstwhile Madras Presidency
2.             The Visakha Industries, promoted by Hon’ble Shri G Venkatswamy & Sons
3.             Padma Shree Krishnammaal Jagannathan of LAFTI – Land For the Tillers in the Rice-Bowl of Tamil Nadu at Tanjore, now in the new Nagapattnam          District of Tamil Nadu. 

Ratilal Makhwana
A Dalit businessman Ratilal Makhwana, who fought against caste barriers in his profession, now owns three companies with an annual turnover of a whopping 400 crores. When Makwana started his business 30 years ago, he least expected untouchability to be a hindrance in his growth trajectory.
"When we got a government contract, manufacturers boycotted our inauguration," Makhwana said.
Today Makwana owns three plastic goods companies with a turnover of 400 crore. At this trade fair organised by the 1000-member Dalit Chamber of Commerce, Makwana and other successful Dalit entrepreneurs are adding a new brand equity.

Steven Kaler-Leather Industrialist from Jalandhar

Mehar Bhagat - Youngest Entrepreneur, HR Consultant, Corporate Trainer , Business Consultant in our community.


Dalit businessmen are India Inc's poster boys
TNN Dec 18, 2011, 06.00am IST


MUMBAI: Neglected for years, Dalit entrepreneurs are now gaining momentum and getting ready to expand their horizons and do business with industrial houses.
The Dalit India Chamber of Commerce and Industries (DICCI), inaugurated by industrialist Adi Godrej on Saturday, held its first expo in the city to showcase products of member-entrepreneurs. The association has also decided to create a venture capital fund with a corpus of Rs 500 crore.

Cottage industries like handicraft, T-shirts and leather products were showcased at the event. Firms engaged in construction and manufacturing industrial products also featured prominently. Many Dalits beat the odds to become successful entrepreneurs in their own right.

Yashodhan Ramteke, an electronics engineer, set up a private institute to train engineers in maintaining thermal power plants in Nagpur. 

Dr Nanda Kishore runs a 100-bed hospital in Hyderabad are success stories from the community.
"I was lucky to get good education and a job with the Union ministry of agriculture. However, I would back reservation since it would provide the impetus to my community," said Natha Ram, the director of Steel Mont Private Ltd—a Rs 600-crore company set up by Rajesh Saraiya (Natha's son).
Saraiya is India's first Dalit billionaire. Born in a middle class family in Dehradun, Rajesh studied aeronautical engineering in Russia and is now based in Ukraine. Kalpana Saroj has done what no Dalit woman in the corporate world could. A school dropout , Saroj is the chairperson of Kamani Tubes Limited.
The company, which makes non-ferrous tubes, had a troubled existence over the past two decades, requiring constant assistance by the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction, following internecine feuds in the Kamani family.
"Supporters and investors turn up if you are focused on what you want," said Saroj. J Nandakumar has craved a niche for himself in the art world. Having completed his Master's in fine arts from Aurangabad university, Nandakumar held many exhibitions of his paintings at J J art gallery. Many corporates have purchased his art works.


Hari Kishan Pippal visits his Heritage Hospital, one of the largest private medical facilities in the north Indian city of Agra. 
Hari Kishan Pippal visits his Heritage Hospital, one of the largest private medical facilities in the north Indian city of Agra. Saurabh Das / AP Photo
'I was one of India's unclean Dalits ... now 

I am a  millionaire':Hari Kishan Pippal

Associated Press
Dec 27, 2011 



AGRA, INDIA // As far back as he can remember, people told Hari Kishan Pippal that he was unclean, with a filthiness that had tainted his family for centuries. Teachers forced him to sit apart from other students. Employers sometimes did not bother to pay him.

Mr Pippal is a Dalit, a member of the outcast community once known as untouchables. Born at the bottom of Hinduism's complex social ladder, that meant he could not eat with people from higher castes or drink from their wells.
He was not supposed to aspire to a life beyond that of his father, an illiterate cobbler. Years later, he still will not repeat the slurs that people called him.
Now, though, people call him something else. They call him rich.
Mr Pippal, 60, owns a hospital, a shoe factory, a car dealership and a publishing company. He has six cars. He lives in a maze of linked apartments in a quiet if dusty neighbourhood of high walls and wrought-iron gates.
"In my heart I am Dalit. But with good clothes, good food, good business, it is like I am high-caste," he said.
Now, he points out, he is richer than most Brahmins, who sit at the top of the caste hierarchy: "I am more than Brahmin!"
The vast majority of India's 170 million Dalits live amid a thicket of grim statistics: less than a third are literate, more than 40 per cent survive on less than US$2 (Dh7.34) a day and infant mortality rates are dramatically higher than among higher castes.
Dalits are far more likely than the overall population to be underweight and far less likely to get postnatal care.
While caste discrimination has been outlawed for more than 60 years and the term "untouchable" is now taboo in public, thousands of anti-Dalit attacks occur every year. Hundreds of people are killed.
The stories spill from India's newspapers: the 14-year-old Dalit strangled because he shared his first name with a higher-caste boy; the 70-year-old man and his disabled daughter burnt alive after a Dalit-owned dog barked at higher-caste neighbours; the man run over at a petrol station because he refused to give up his place in line to a high-caste customer.
But amid centuries of caste tradition that can seem immutable, there has been slow change.
In an extensive survey by the Centre for the Advanced Study of India in the US at the University of Pennsylvania, researchers found that Dalits living in concrete homes, not huts made from mud and straw, had jumped from 18 per cent to 64 per cent between 1990 and 2007 in one north Indian district.
Ownership of various household goods - fans, chairs, pressure cookers and bicycles - had skyrocketed over the same period. The study also found a weakening of some caste traditions, with, for example, far fewer Dalits being seated separately at non-Dalit weddings.
While most Dalits still support themselves as rural labourers, there is also a growing Dalit middle class, many of them civil servants who have benefited from affirmative action laws.
"Caste is losing its grip," said Chandra Bhan Prasad, a Dalit writer, social scientist and one-time Marxist militant who has become a leading voice urging the Dalit poor to see the virtues of capitalism.
In a consumer society, Mr Prasad argues, wealth can trump caste - at least some of the time.
Growing economies also foster urbanisation, he said, allowing low-caste Indians to escape traditional village strictures.
Economic growth also means the traditional merchant castes are not large enough to fill every job.
No one knows how many wealthy Dalit entrepreneurs have emerged since India opened its economy in the early 1990s, sparking some of the world's fastest economic growth. Hundreds certainly, maybe thousands.

They are also increasingly visible and the wealthiest have become darlings of the Indian media, held up as proof that modern India is an increasingly caste-blind society.
This is nonsense, said Anand Teltumbde, a prominent Dalit activist.
"These stories [about successful Dalits] sit well with the middle class," said Mr Teltumbde, who is a grandson of BR Ambedkar, an independence-era Dalit lawyer revered as a hero by Dalits across India. "The entire world has changed ... but the number of well-off Dalits is no more than 10 per cent. Ninety per cent of Dalits live a dilapidated kind of life."
As for Mr Pippal, he finds himself uncomfortably in the middle of this debate. He is a rich Dalit who thinks very little has changed for India's outcasts, a man who credits his own success to hard work and ego.
"From my childhood, I was thinking, 'One day I will be a big man'," he said.
Raised in poverty, he only made it through high school before his father became ill, so he had to go to work pulling a rickshaw to support the family. His first break came when he married a Dalit woman from a slightly better-off family that owned a small shoe workshop.
Mr Pippal shifted the focus of his father-in-law's workshop, concentrating on high-quality shoes and teaching himself languages - English, Tamil, Punjabi, Russian, German - to sell his goods more widely.
Today, he owns a 300-worker factory where 500 handmade shoes are turned out every day, then packed into boxes already marked with prices in euros and British pounds. The expensive ones retail for as much as US$500 a pair.
He used his profits to start a small Honda dealership, then the hospital. Immense profits are being made in India's private healthcare industry, as the new middle class seeks alternatives to the often-questionable care at most public hospitals.
Mr Pippal has proven himself a success. He is rich. He is greeted with respect on the streets. His children went to good schools and grew up with friends from across the caste spectrum.
Yet he believes he often remains, a figure of quiet contempt.
"These people are very bloody clever," Mr Pippal said of the high-caste businessmen with whom he deals. "When there are profits to be made, then everything [about his caste] is OK. But in their mind, they're thinking, 'He is a Dalit'."


Scaling Caste Walls With Capitalism’s 


Rags to Riches: The Times accompanies Indian entrepreneur Ashok Khade as he revisits his native village, where he was of the lowest caste.

By LYDIA POLGREEN

PED, India — On his barefoot trudge to school decades ago, a young Ashok Khade passed inescapable reminders of what he was: the well from which he was not allowed to drink; the temple where he was not permitted to worship. At school, he took his place on the floor in a part of the classroom built a step lower than the rest. Untouchables like him, considered to be spiritually and physically unclean, could not be permitted to pollute their upper-caste neighbors and classmates.


Kuni Takahashi for The New York Times

As a Dalit, a member of the untouchable caste, Ashok Khade, here with his mother, has lived a rags-to-riches story in India. With a profitable business, he has “gone from village to palace.”
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Kuni Takahashi for The New York Times

A company founded by Ashok Khade, a Dalit, or untouchable, is at work on a huge engineering project in India.
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Kuni Takahashi for The New York Times

Mr. Khade, center, successfully established himself as a businessman in India despite caste constraints.
Enlarge This Image

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Kuni Takahashi for The New York Times

From a grim beginning in Ped, Mr. Khade and his family made the most of their opportunities in a changing India. Two of his brothers are now in politics; a school in Maharashtra is named after one.
Enlarge This Image

Kuni Takahashi for The New York Times

During a visit to his old high school, Mr. Khade found his name in the register. His admission there was his first big break. Away from his village's deeper caste prejudice, he thrived. But the school still wrote his caste next to his name.
Starting From Nothing

Ashok Khade’s rags-to-riches story stands out because of how completely he transformed himself, with some luck and some help from India’s opening economy, from an illiterate cobbler’s son to a multimillionaire player in the booming oil services industry.
He was born in a mud hut in Ped in 1955, one of six children. His parents were day laborers who toiled in upper-caste farmers’ fields for pennies. His father would often travel to Mumbai, then known as Bombay, to work as a shoe repairman. He came from a family of Chamhars, a caste at the very bottom of the Hindu hierarchy. Their traditional job was to skin dead animals.
They were poor and always hungry. One day, his mother sent him to fetch a small bag of flour on credit from a nearby flour mill so she could cook flatbread for dinner. But it was the monsoon season and Ashok slipped in the mud. The precious flour landed in a puddle.
“I came home weeping,” he said. “My mother was weeping. My brothers and sisters were hungry. There was nothing in the house.”
But that hunger gave him drive. “That was my starting day,” he said.
Mr. Khade got his first big break that year, when he won admission to a school run by a charity in a nearby town. Away from the village and its deeper caste prejudice, he thrived. Upper-caste teachers nurtured him, and he strived to impress them.
But caste was not entirely absent. In the school’s musty register from 1973, the year he finished high school, next to his name is his caste: Chamhar.
All through school, poverty gnawed at him. Students had to provide their own paper to write their exams, and one day he found himself without even a few pennies to buy the necessary sheets of foolscap. A teacher tore pages from the attendance ledger. Too poor to buy string to tie the pages together, he used a thorn from a tree. None of it mattered. He graduated near the top of his class.
Setbacks and Luck
Mr. Khade’s elder brother, Datta, had managed to get an apprenticeship as a welder at a government-owned ship building company, Mazagon Dock, in Mumbai. He persuaded young Ashok to move to the big city. The tiny room where Datta lived with relatives was already full, so Ashok slept for a time under a nearby staircase on a folding cot.
Mr. Khade dreamed of becoming a doctor and studied at a local college. But Datta, who supported the entire family, begged his younger brother to drop out of school and start working. Datta helped Ashok get a job as an apprentice draftsman at Mazagon Dock.
What seemed like a setback turned out to be a stroke of luck. His flawless drafting skills and boundless appetite for hard work won him promotions. In 1983, he was sent to Germany to work on a submarine project.
One day, he saw the pay slip of one of his German colleagues, who earned in one month more than Mr. Khade earned in a year. “I thought about my family’s needs,” he said. “My sisters needed to get married. I knew I could do better than working for someone else.”
When he returned from Germany, he began laying the groundwork to start his own company. The risk was enormous, and it was almost unheard of to leave a steady job to start a company. But his two brothers were expert offshore welders. They had good contacts from their years at Mazagon Dock.
And the economy was changing after years of stagnation as the 1991 reforms began to reduce the bureaucracy’s control of the economy and stimulate growth. “It was obvious there was a chance to make a lot of money,” he said.
The brothers used their savings to finance the small subcontract jobs they began with, and in 1993 they got their first big order, for some underwater jackets for an offshore oil rig, from Mazagon Dock.
Mr. Khade’s hunch was right, and his timing was impeccable. Faster growth meant India’s appetite for fossil fuels grew ever more rapacious. His company, which builds and refurbishes offshore oil rigs, has expanded rapidly and he is expanding to the Middle East. He recently signed a deal with a member of the royal family of Abu Dhabi to work on oil wells there, and he is building what will be India’s biggest jetty fabrication yard on the Maharashtra coast. He has 4,500 employees, and his company is valued at more than $100 million.
His two brothers are now in politics — one leads the Ped village council, the other is a member of the state assembly, both holding seats reserved for Dalits. Mr. Khade has bought vast tracts of land around his village, the same plots where his mother, now 86, used to work for upper-caste farmers for pennies a day. Now she dresses in expensive silk saris, rides in a chauffeured car and wears gold jewelry. The sons of upper-caste families now work for Mr. Khade’s company. By any measure he is a man who has made it, and big.
“An untouchable boy the business partner of a prince?” Mr. Khade said. “Who would believe that is possible?”
Mr. Khade probably would not be in business with a prince had he not attended a networking cocktail reception hosted by the Dalit Chamber of Commerce and Industry at the five-star Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai this year. There he met the Indian businessman who introduced him to the Arab sheik, who helped him to globalize his company.
These kinds of connections are crucial to the nascent Dalit business community. Because Dalit businessmen often lack the social connections that lead to business ideas, loans and other support, a group of Dalit entrepreneurs created the chamber in 2005. It aims to build those networks so Dalit business leaders can help one another grow. The group has about 1,000 members, all of whom run companies with an annual turnover of at least $20,000.
It recently organized a meeting where Dalit businessmen pitched ideas to Tata Motors, one of India’s biggest car companies. Mr. Kamble, the Dalit contractor, said that of the 10 companies that attended, 4 had signed deals and 4 more were in negotiations. “There was a time when people like us could not even approach a company like Tata Motors,” he said. “Now we go meet them with dignity, not like beggars. We are job givers, not job seekers.”
The group has persuaded the government to embrace contracting preferences for Dalits like the ones that have helped businesses owned by women and minorities in the United States. It also seeks to persuade private companies to embrace affirmative action policies that would create more jobs and business opportunities for Dalits.
Few Options for Women
Despite the success of men like Mr. Khade, a Dalit entrepreneur is still much more likely to be a poor woman who has no choice but to start a small, low-profit margin business because so few other options are open to her, said Annie Namala, a researcher and activist who has worked on Dalit issues. A survey completed this year of Dalit women entrepreneurs in Delhi and Hyderabad found that most made less than $100 a month from their businesses.
“These are basically survival enterprises,” Ms. Namala said. “These women would prefer a steady job, but no jobs are available so they start a small business and work very hard with very little return.”
Despite gains for some Dalits, a recent paper from the Harvard Business School that used government data from 2005 found that even after the economic liberalization, Dalits “were significantly underrepresented in the ownership of private enterprises, and the employment generated by private enterprises.”
Even for those who have had wild success in business, social acceptance has proved harder to attain. While wealth insulates them to some degree from lingering caste prejudice, barriers remain even for rich Dalits.
Names often reveal a person’s caste, so one Dalit businessman who installs solar water heaters changed his last name because he worried that upper-caste people would not want a Dalit installing an appliance associated with personal hygiene in their homes.
Even Mr. Khade, with all his wealth and newfound status, does not want to offend potential upper-caste clients. His business card reads Ashok K, leaving off the last name that reveals what he is: a Dalit.
Hari Kumar contributed reporting.

 Accentuating his words with hand movements that make his gold and diamond rings sparkle. "My father worked as a cobbler in Mumbai. You can still find the tree he planted and plied his trade under near Chitra Talkies."

For a businessman, Udyog Ratna awardee Ashok Khade has an incredible repertoire of childhood stories to tell. His story is compelling: from extreme poverty to heading one of the most sought-after offshore fabrication companies in Mumbai: DAS Offshore Engineering.

DAS is the biggest employer among dalit-owned companies — with 4,500 employees — and is credited with building Mumbai's first skywalk at Bandra. The company specialises in doing fabrication work on offshore platforms for energy and infrastructure companies.

Khade's beginnings in his native village Ped in Sangli district were humble. He was a bright student despite limitations like lack of electricity and inadequate nutrition. Teachers, he says, particularly admired his neat handwriting, proudly displaying the fine strokes on the yellowing paper of notebooks he has carefully preserved.
 On his barefoot trudge to school decades ago, a young Ashok Khade passed inescapable reminders of what he was: the well from which he was not allowed to drink; the temple where he was not permitted to worship. At school, he took his place on the floor in a part of the classroom built a step lower than the rest. Untouchables like him, considered to be spiritually and physically unclean, could not be permitted to pollute their upper-caste neighbors and classmates.
As a Dalit, a member of the untouchable caste, Ashok Khade, here with his mother, has lived a rags-to-riches story in India. With a profitable business, he has “gone from village to palace.”

But on a recent afternoon, as Mr. Khade’s chauffeur guided his shimmering silver BMW sedan onto that same street in a village in the southern state of Maharashtra, village leaders rushed to greet him. He paid his respects at the temple, which he paid to rebuild. The untouchable boy had become golden, thanks to the newest god in the Indian pantheon: money.

As the founder of a successful offshore oil-rig engineering company, Mr. Khade is part of a tiny but growing class of millionaires from the Dalit population, the 200 million so-called untouchables who occupy the very lowest rung in Hinduism’s social hierarchy.
“I’ve gone from village to palace,” Mr. Khade exclaimed, using his favorite phrase to describe his remarkable journey from the son of an illiterate cobbler in the 1960s to a wealthy business partner of Arab sheiks.
The rapid growth that followed the opening of India’s economy in 1991 has widened the gulf between rich and poor, and some here have begun to blame liberalization for the rising tide of corruption. But the era of growth has also created something unthinkable a generation ago: a tiny but growing group of wealthy Dalit business people.
Some measure their fortunes in hundreds of thousands of dollars, and a handful, like Mr. Khade, have started companies worth tens of millions. With their new wealth they have also won a measure of social acceptance.
“On his barefoot trudge to school decades ago,” Polgreen writes, “a young Ashok Khade passed inescapable reminders of what he was: the well from which he was not allowed to drink; the temple where he was not permitted to worship.”
 Caste System India – Ashok Khade“At school, he took his place on the floor in a part of the classroom built a step lower than the rest. Untouchables like him, considered to be spiritually and physically unclean, could not be permitted to pollute their upper-caste neighbors and classmates.“
Hunger was an everyday reality for Khade and his five siblings. He asks if we know what it is to sleep on a hungry stomach. "Once, I went to get flour from the mill during the rains, but dropped it in the water. When I got home, my mother said there was nothing else to eat. I can never forget that incident." There are many other remembered snatches: how, for instance, the siblings would sleep in an embrace for warmth on winter nights.
Khade may be an overachiever, but he has his quirks too. He has been twirling a green fountain pen, which is now revealed to be the same pen with which he wrote his SSC exam 40 years ago. "Babloo", as he has affectionately nicknamed the instrument, cost him a precious Rs 3.50. "And yet," he opens a drawer, "only Babloo would make the cover of my autobiography," and casually scatters on the desk half a dozen Mont Blanc pens collectively worth .`5 lakh.
Ashok Khade’s father was a cobbler, working under a tree in Mumbai. Ashok went to college and then joined Mazagon Docks. He acquired skills in offshore maintenance and construction. Today, his company DAS Offshore is a major offshore services company and he now plans a jetty fabrication yard that will employ 2,500 workers. He does not believe in caste reservation—only 1% of his workers are dalits.

THE BUSINESS DOCKS
Khade's circumstances however were far from being amusing or romantic. He recalls how his background was a stumbling block in his education. The Brahmin boys in his class had an edge over him in Sanskrit because of the rituals they followed at home, while his struggling family had no time for poojas. He eventually topped his class 10 Sanskrit exam.
He also met some good samaritans along the way. During the famine of 1972, he was "adopted" by a man who gave him food, and one of his teachers bought him a new set of clothes after he showed up for an exam in torn trousers.
After finishing high school, Khade came to Mumbai to live with his uncle. He ended up working at Mazagon Dock when financial constraints cut short his desire to pursue medicine. "I went crying to the docks," says the future ship designer. He worked at Mazagon from 1975 to 1992, building a career as well as an enviable network of contacts and well-wishers, along with brothers Datta and Suresh.
The stint would bring new experiences into Khade's life. He was sent to West Germany in 1984 for an assignment related to submarine quality control, and married shortly after returning home. He also managed to complete a part-time diploma in mechanical engineering alongside his job. In 1992, Khade's uncle died leaving behind four unmarried daughters. This sudden tug on the family's pockets was the trigger that activated Khade's entrepreneurial ambitions. DAS Offshore — named after the initials of the three brothers — was established in 1995 without an ounce of external capital, according to Khade.

Their first project came from Mazagon Dock, their former employer. A contractor had abandoned a project halfway and bids were invited. Captain PV Nair, a retired Indian Navy officer and former chairman of Mazagon Dock, recommended DAS for finishing the job, and so they were awarded the contract worth Rs 1.82 crore. "I got all my supplies on credit from people I had worked with," says Khade. Nair, who now acts as advisor for DAS, says that Khade is "determined, hardworking, and will take the work to its logical conclusion."
Having battled against both financial and social odds, one might expect a dalit entrepreneur to favour positive discrimination towards his ilk. Khade, however, is a staunch believer in merit, and rejects the idea of giving more weightage to aspiring employees or vendors from his caste. Less than 1% of his employees are dalits. "I believe in quality control," says the man who once refused a job to an underqualified nephew.

Dalit Entrepreneurs: From Job Seekers To Job Givers

by Udit Misra
The CII�s move to increase sourcing goods and services from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe entrepreneurs can bring about much awaited change

Dalit Entrepreneurs: From Job Seekers To Job Givers
Image: Amit Verma
FIGHTING DISCRIMINATION Dalit Thinker Chandra Bhan Prasad
W
hen 33-year-old Devanand Londhe, a civil engineer from Kolhapur University, decided to leave his job as a disaster management consultant and turn entrepreneur in 2008, he was in for a rude shock. Despite the economic and social changes in democratic India, he realised that being a Dalit (member of Scheduled Caste) can still create numerous hurdles.

Londhe wanted to start a garment manufacturing unit in his home district of Sangli, Maharashtra, but could not find someone who would lend him Rs. 7 lakh to start his unit. A bank denied him the loan at the last minute, without giving any valid reason. This delayed his plans to start the unit by a year, and forced him to sell his house and wife’s jewellery and take loans from a money lender to meet the shortfall. “My qualifications and ability did not matter; age-old perceptions and discriminations did,” says Londhe.

In the past two years, however, he has made good progress. Today, he employs 225 people in his business of exporting gloves to Japanese firms and has a turnover of more than Rs. 1 crore.

Still, he faces difficulties in getting orders or funding from within the country. It is no surprise then that Londhe feels buoyed by the Confederation of Indian Industry’s (CII) latest open declaration for affirmative action.

On May 18, CII President B. Muthuraman announced that the industry body will work closely with the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI) to increase sourcing of goods and services from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (SC and ST) entrepreneurs by 10 to 20 percent.
Today, DICCI has 1,000 entrepreneurs as members, 400 of whom are in Maharshtra. In 2005, when it started, it had only 100 members.

“[The CII] should have done this a long time ago,” says Londhe, who could not take up an order from a Tata group company last year for manufacturing  21 lakh pairs of gloves because no financier believed he could deliver to the Tata group. He feels such an open declaration could bring about a sea change in the way Dalit entrepreneurs are perceived in society.

“It is a significant event since it is the first time the industry is officially declaring this,” says Chandra Bhan Prasad, one of the leading Dalit thinkers in the country. Prasad has been spearheading the cause of affirmative action both in public and private sector. “We started this agenda in Bhopal in 2002 when the Madhya Pradesh government ruled that its departments would source 30 percent of its purchases from SCs and STs.” But the untold truth is that there has been more discrimination in the private sector than in the public.

Prasad says that although there are many Dalit businessmen in the country, they are weighed down by negative perceptions and most are unable to grow their businesses beyond Rs. 50 crore. Most Dalit entrepreneurs end up becoming third party suppliers in large businesses. “They don’t get a direct first party contract,” he says.

“It is tough enough in government dealings, but in the private sector it is worse,” says Ratibhai Makwana, who speaks from his experience of more than six decades as a businessman in Gujarat, with a turnover of Rs. 200 crore.

There is another reason why the call for affirmative action in the private sector is being taken as a watershed event by Dalit businessmen and thinkers. “We want to be job givers, not job seekers,” says Adhik Rao Sadamate of Sadamate Industries, as he complains against the continuing stereotyping of Dalits as incapable of delivering quality.

Prasad feels that while the move will benefit many young Dalit entrepreneurs to gain a footing in business, the real benefit is the possible change in the way in which Dalits are looked at, by themselves and others. “We need role models. Dalit entrepreneurs need to believe and this could be the gentle push they need,” he says.

Milind Kamble, head of DICCI, says he is busy finalising a list of about 400 members who could well be the first ones to benefit from the CII’s move.

Joint steps
The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has also set a target of training 50,000 youngsters from among the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SCs and STs)and facilitate an equal number of them with employment in 2011-12. Milind Kamble, head of the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI), says the CII would be using its own training centres, in places like Pune and Ahmedabad, for this purpose.

By the first week of June, DICCI will be providing the CII with a list of 400 Dalit entrepreneurs, from among its 1,000 members, who could benefit from the CII’s move to increase sourcing of goods and services from SC and ST entrepreneurs.
This article appeared in the Forbes India magazine of 17 June, 2011

Read more: http://forbesindia.com/article/breakpoint/dalit-entrepreneurs-from-job-seekers-to-job-givers/25772/1#ixzz2kWlTJmWq

Bhagwan Gawai worked as a construction labourer as a boy in Mumbai. But he completed school and college, and then joined HPCL.

He always got good appraisals but these were tampered with by caste-conscious colleagues, so he was denied the promotions he deserved. He sued HPCL on grounds of discrimination, and won. Later HPCL posted him in Dubai. There he acquired Arab friends who became his partners in a new trading business. This business now has a turnover of a whopping $20 million. He has also brought 30 dalit entrepreneurs together under a holding company, Maitreya Developers.


Sushil Patil’s father was a labourer in an ordnance factory, who educated his son. He had to plead with the college dean to waive the last year’s fees, which he could not afford. The investment paid off. Sushil was employed in various firms, but then decided to start his own business, with the help of small loans. He failed in a series of ventures. But he persevered, and ultimately set up a firm, IEPC, providing engineering procurement and construction services. This now has revenues of Rs 280 crore per year.

 Balu
 Balu, manufactures soldering equipment with revenues of Rs 2.5 crore. He says 32 girls in a row rejected him as a marriage partner because of his poor prospects! His weak business was regarded as insecure. He says many dalit businessmen hide their caste identity to avoid social sigma and loss of business. That mentality sorely needs to change.

Dalit woman heads a Rs 3000 crore business enterprise



   By  Mauli Buch



 Kalpana Saroj, 50, is the daughter of a Dalit police constable in Akola district of Maharashtra. Today she heads a Rs.3,000 crore business enterprise.
Saroj was one of five women entrepreneurs at the first trade fair organised by the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI) who have fought not only social prejudices but also gender bias.

The DICCI fair brought to the limelight some of the successful Dalit women entrepreneurs (Photo: DICCI)
The trade show aimed to change the traditional image of Dalits - some of India's most socio-economically marginalised - as always being seekers and dependent on government aid. And these five women - Saroj, Geeta Parmar, Aparna Kadam, Sana Ansari and Ishita Lal - had more to be proud of in a field that has historically been a male-dominated affair.
Saroj was pulled out of school and married off at the age of 12 only to return home in a pathetic state due to the physical and mental torment of her in-laws.
She attempted to join the police force at age 13, but failed. She tried her hand at nursing and failed again. She then learned stitching and sewing and made efforts to stitch clothes of her fellow villagers. But this only antagonised the villagers who thought a 'returned bride' was stepping beyond her social boundaries.
"At the age of 15, I moved to Mumbai and was lucky enough to be sheltered by a benevolent Gujarati family. I then joined a hosiery unit on a wage of Rs.2 per day and have never looked back since," says Saroj.
At 22, Saroj married a small-time furniture manufacturer. She also revived his ailing steel-cupboard manufacture business.
This mother of two then started a construction company. "In 1995, I bought a piece of land at a throwaway price and managed to clear encroachments and other litigation on it," says Saroj.
In 1997, with the help of institutional finance, Saroj erected a residential and commercial complex at a cost of Rs.4 crore and sold it for a tidy profit.
Often referred to as someone who turns an ailing business to a profitable one, Saroj took over Kamani Tubes. "A brand leader in non-ferrous tubes, the company was started by Mumbai's well-known industrialist Ramji Kamani, a Gandhian and close associate of Jawaharlal Nehru," Saroj said.
Today Saroj's interests include various industries such as construction, hotel, sugar, non-ferrous tubes and art galleries. She is all set to enter the steel business soon.
Another such example is Parmar, who, along with her husband, has been running a furniture manufacturing business since she married in 1971. Though 61, she is as fit as a fiddle and puts in long hours to manage the business in Mumbai while her husband manages the factory in Gujarat.
"It took me some time to settle down in Mumbai. Out of sheer love for the family, I went on to help my husband alongside taking care of my three children," she said.
Also fighting her own battle in a man's world is Kadam, 28, who runs her own event management firm alongside leather and jewellery manufacturing businesses.
"Event management is a strictly male-dominated business. You will see girls working for the firms, but not owning them," Kadam said. "I still face dirty competition from my male counterparts in this business. But with the support of my husband and family, I will make it big here," she added.
An artist and freelance corporate designer Lal, however, thinks life has been easier for her. "I am mainly into corporate branding, marketing and rebranding and have given new faces to existing businesses by way of my rebranding ideas," Lal said.
"I am glad that I have not faced as many problems in my career. However, I have not been professionally trained in art. Hence, the challenge for me is to emerge as the best in whatever I do," she said.
Also sitting quietly at her stall and attending to the visitors is Sana Ansari, 36, who runs a small manufacturing unit that makes scarves and 'hijabs' for Muslim women.
"It started about eight years back when my 20-day-old daughter Iqra's head needed to be covered with the long scarf that women in our community wear. I designed a scarf that could stay on her tiny head and not fall off," Ansari said.
"A lot of women asked me where I got it from and that they also wanted the scarf for their infant daughters. I started to make them on my own initially and also started making 'hijabs'. Gradually, it prospered and I hired people to help me with the tailoring."
Ansari supplies the 'hijabs' and scarves all over India and produces over 10,000 pieces each year. - IANS

POSITIONS HELD IN PROFESSIONAL CAPACITY:

Chairperson – Corporate Sector:
M/s Kamani Tubes Limited, Mumbai –400 038.
M/s Acme Steel Pvt. Ltd., Wada, Dist. Thane, Maharashtra.
Chairperson - Social Sector:
Rashtriya Ekata Yuva Manch (Maharashtra State).
Sushikhit Berojgar Mandal, Thane.
Chairperson – Educational Institutions:
Kalpana Saroj College of Law, Kalyan, Maharashtra.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Education Society, Maharashtra.
Directorship:
Saikripa Sakhar Karkhana Devdaithan, Dist. Ahmednagar.
Partnership:
Kalpana Saroj & Associates.
Proprietorship:
Proprietorship:
Kalpana Enterprises.
Kalpana Builders and Developers.
Executive President:
Santa Bahuudeshiya Mandal.
Samta Vidyalaya, Kalyan, Thane.
Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Vidhyalaya, Kalyan, Thane.
Dr. Ambedkar Vachanalaya, Kalyan, Thane.
Executive Chairman Reception Committee:
1st International Buddha Phule Ambedkar Literary Conference – 2001, Kalyan, Thane.
Executive Vice President:
1st International Buddhist Conference – 2005, Mumbai.
Representative:
World Peace Committee (NGO) New York, U.S.A.
International Peace Representative (Recognized by the U.N.).
Executive Member:
Mahilasuraksha Samiti, Thane Police Auyukta.
Police Peace Committee, Kalyan, Thane.
Executive Secretary:
Rashtrawadi Congress party (National Congress Party, NCP).
Ex. National Executive Member (Delhi):
Republican Party of India.
AWARDS RECEIVED:

Savitri Phule Aadarsha Mahila Award – from Shri Suradkar, I.G. Maharashtra State in 1999.
Mata Savitri Jyotiba Phule Award – from Ex-Prime Minister of India Hon. Shri V.P. Singh in 2001.
Rajiv Gandhi Award for Woman Entrepreneur



Dalit Empowerment through Entrepreneurship: A Case of Punjab

Gurpreet Bal
Department of Sociology
Guru Nanak Dev University
Amritsar
Punjab
gbal.judge@gmail.com

Abstract

This paper is based on an empirical research conducted in the Jalandhar city of Punjab.  Punjab has the highest proportion of the scheduled castes among the states of India.  They constitute 28.85 percent as per 2001 census while Jalandhar has second highest concentration, i.e., 37.69 percent.  The study reveals that 23.75 percent to the total respondents in Jalandhar have become entrepreneurs. However, their process of modernization has not broken the bond of caste–occupation, but certainly the modernization of their traditional hereditary occupations is taking place. The scheduled caste groups have found opportunities of mobility not only in their age old occupations but have also ventured into some other entrepreneurial activities which earlier were in the reserve of higher castes. Therefore, it is predominantly the better off amongst the scheduled castes who have become business and industrial entrepreneurs. The explorations into their background reveal that they are young, educated and largely the natives of the place. The study reveals that through entrepreneurship the scheduled castes have empowered themselves in the political and social spheres. The Jalandhar city under study has a Dalit Mayor and is the center of the Bahujan Samaj Party. The city is popularly known as North India’s capital of scheduled castes. Many have become the rich persons of the city who reside in the most posh localities.  The study explores the type, extent, nature and performance of their entrepreneurial activities and how through entrepreneurship they have empowered themselves economically, socially and politically.



Indian society has historically evolved on the principle of hereditary occupations where the choice of occupation was absent for the people. Occupations were not simply inherited in the family; rather a caste was identified with the hereditary occupation. Sometimes even the name of the caste corresponded with the occupation. As we move to the castes lower in the hierarchy, the restrictions on the choice of occupation were more severe. The restricted choice of occupations provided for limited or no social mobility. 
            The industrial development in India led to the emergence of new occupations. The new occupational composition acted as a catalyst in changing the rigid structure of the society. Linking occupation with the caste status definitely posed a problem in the case of new occupations. It also implies that such an occurrence could either take place through the intervention of some external power or the society itself experienced cataclysmic changes. In the case of India, both the events took place. The British colonial intervention was the major factor that transformed the Indian society in a definite way. The political economy of the colonial development though characterised by many limitations, but it certainly created two interesting trends that broke the caste occupation linkages combined with power and privileges. First, some of the hitherto stigmatised occupations became lucrative due to the rise in the demand of certain commodities. Secondly, new occupations emerged that were to be performed by the people who were traditionally linked with their caste occupations. Could they come out and leave their traditional occupations behind? The experience of India shows that it happened like this. However, it involved both voluntary and involuntary compulsions. Economic development brought misery to the artisan production and the indigenous production system did not have the ability to compete. The destruction of artisan production turned the artisans into workers. The age-old correspondence with the caste and occupation was broken. Even then the opportunities for the lower caste to go for any occupation were limited. It remained



Confined to the cities that were not growing at a fast rate. So far as the upper castes and
power holders in the society are concerned, they might have been unrestrained by power relations in the village to choose particular occupations though it is quite possible that their higher caste status might have limited their choices in opting for particular occupations even in the case of those individuals who were not economically well off.
            In the light of the above, it becomes clear that breaking of the tradition tended to encompass all aspects of human life. What made it so all pervasive was the existence of caste system and its ideology that provided the justification to the system. The link between caste and occupation has been quite complex and there is a need to examine it in the context of scheduled castes. Since a lot has been written on caste and scheduled castes, there is not much need to repeat various views, however it may be pointed out that as a form of social inequality, it seems to be implicating all aspects of social relations and interactions. Caste status is determined by birth accompanied by hereditary occupation, endogamy, and restrictions on eating and interaction. To understand the process of sustenance, here is need for clear-cut identification of the agents who exercise power as well as articulate powerful ideology. The latter exists in the form of Dharma-karma principle that links the caste status with the deeds of the previous birth. In such a system, the choice of occupation is limited for a caste and it is enforced by power. The scheduled castes, ideally speaking, were performing the occupations that were degraded and polluting. Refusal of these castes to do that polluting work and an attempt to go for some non-polluting work implied the powerful response from the power holders, that is, ruling castes.
            The major change came after the Independence when the pace of industrialisation picked up. In her study of transformation of smithy from an artisan production to the industrial production at different levels of technology, Bal (1995) has found that the moment technology entered the traditional artisan production the non-artisan castes also took up that enterprise. The trajectory of change in the caste-occupation correspondence gave rise to two kinds of dynamism. In the first case, the transformation of artisan production into modern enterprise led to the entry of new caste groups, particularly the upper castes into that activity. Secondly, new occupations opened up to accommodate all castes thus breaking the barrier of restriction on the choice of occupation.
The main objective of the paper is to map the nature and extent of entrepreneurship among the scheduled castes as well as to see whether it has brought about change in their social and political world. It may seem truism yet it may be pointed out that the moment we find entrepreneurship among dalits a level change is subsumed under it. Entrepreneurship is innovative, creative and risk prone activity where they have ventured in, which requires capital, decision- making ability and leadership traits. Thus taking to entrepreneurship points towards change in social and economic conditions of the people.
The study presents a case of a caste that has excelled in entrepreneurship. The focus of examination of empowerment here is the Chamar/Ad-dharmi, an artisan caste located in Boota Mandi area of Jalandhar city. The interview schedule and case study method have been used for the collection of information that is both qualitative and quantitative in nature. In all 100 respondents have randomly been selected out of which 64 per cent are entrepreneurs and rest of the 36 percent are engaged in various other occupations. The data pertaining to 64 entrepreneurs also includes a few case studies of successful entrepreneurs. The traditional caste occupation of Chamars/Ad-dharmis has been dealing with carcass/ skins and hides. These Chamars from adjoining villages were frequently coming to this place for the sale and purchase of dead animals and many of them settled here. From then onwards it became Boota Mandi (North India’s major market of rawhides and skins).
The Chamars chose to become Ad-dharmis when Mangoo Ram – former activist of the Ghadar party movement from the village Mughowal in Hoshiarpur district launched the Ad-dharm movement in the 1920s. The movement remained concentrated in Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur districts. The agenda of the Ad-dharm movement was to create a new religious identity – Ad-dharm (an ancient religion) for the lower castes, which would carve out a separate religious space for them (Ram 2004). Thus the term Ad-dharmi has become a polite synonym for Chamar. Henceforth, in this study Chamars are referred to as Ad-dharmis.
The Ad- dharmi are the most progressive and enterprising of all the scheduled castes. Sabarwal in Mobile Men (1990) has made a comparative study of Ramgarhia, Ad-dharmis and Balmikis in an urban area of Punjab. The Ad-dharmis have been found more open to new experiences and exposures, learning new skills, venturing into the industry by restricting their consumption and ploughing the savings back for expansion. Through their entrepreneurial skills they have moved up in the social and political hierarchy. They could occupy many positions of political and social importance. There is also a study that informs that many Ad- dharmis also migrated to foreign countries such as England in the first half of the last century where they took up various types of occupations and the remunerations sent back home further contributed to their economic well being (Judge 2002). Many of them improved their life style and also ventured into the wholesale business of hides and skins and tanning industry. A study on entrepreneurship by Dahiwale (1986) on five different scheduled castes - Mahars, Mang, Dhor, Chambhar and Bhangi in Kolhapur city reveals that they moved up in the social hierarchy by taking up new and modern occupations. These castes attribute their social mobility to education, occupational mobility and the personal performance. The ruler personally practiced and monitored the policies and programmes to uplift the ex-untouchables by giving them education and sending them to cities to learn new skills.  They were also financed to start new ventures. At the social and interpersonal level, he took exemplary personal lead by employing these people in his kitchen and palace. He encouraged interdinning and intercaste marriages. Besides their efforts, the ruler of Kolhapur, Shahuji Chhatrapati, the social reformers and Christian missionaries worked for their social and economic upliftment. In their case the entrepreneurial activities are the result of comprehensive action programme. The leather shoemakers the Labbai community of Tamil Nadu have become international entrepreneurs who sell their finished leather and shoes to European, Australian and North American markets.  Believed to be ex- untouchable they converted to Islam and were responsible for its industrialisation during 19th and 20th centuries (Flamant 2003). These Tamil Nadu leather goods entrepreneurs have close business dealings with the entrepreneurs under study. The raw hides and semi-finished skins procured in Jalandhar mainly have their final destination in Tamil Nadu’s tanneries and factories.
The case study of empowerment of the Ad-dharmis/Chamars of Boota Mandi depicts their own initiative, motivation and hard work to make their traditional skills in hides and skins relevant in the changed scenario of industrialisation and modernisation. Punjab has the highest percentage (28.85% as per 2001 census) of scheduled castes out of which Jalandhar district has the second highest concentration, i.e., 37.69 per cent. Jalandhar is the centre of Bahujan Samaj Party. Incidentally, the present Mayor of the city also belongs to this community besides his being a successful entrepreneur.
Besides the main theoretical issues, method and objectives of the study, which we have already explicated, the present paper is divided into two parts.  The first part deals with the entrepreneurial activities of the Ad- dharmis at the empirical level. While a few case studies of successful entrepreneurs are discussed in the second part, whereas in the end some conclusions are drawn.

I. Empirical Mapping of the Entrepreneurs

 Personal Profile: All the respondents are males falling mainly (84.37 per cent) in the age 20 to 50 years. Therefore, taking to entrepreneurship is relatively a recent phenomenon. All of them are Ad-dharmis. Except for a Christian and a Buddhist, all others are Hindus. They (89.06%) are mainly the natives of this place as they all have moved to the present location from the nearby surrounding villages some 70 to 80 years back. Most of the respondents are born here. With the growth of the area many of these villages have been subsumed by the place. Only four of them have migrated to this place from outside the state. All are educated though 55 percent have got education up to matriculation and plus two level. Even in the case of their fathers, 64 per cent were educated. Most of the mothers of the respondents are illiterate, yet one quarter of them are educated up to the level of matriculation.
 The traditional caste occupation for all the Chamars was dealing with raw hides (59.37%), tanning of leather (29.69%) and snaring of skins (9.37%). Whereas, a significant transformation has been found in the present occupational status of the respondents. Apart from becoming leather goods industrialists, rawhide merchants, commission agents of animals and wholesalers of hides and skins, and owners of tanneries, they have also become large businessmen (18.75), medium (23.44) and petty shopkeepers (9.55). One of them is also running a school. The information on their father’s occupation reveals that 64.06% of them were engaged in large and wholesale business, while 6.25% were in medium type of business and 7.81% were running small and petty business. Nearly 17 percent of them were engaged in different types of jobs including junior Government officer, clerical job, and skilled workers. Besides 4.69 percent of them were either farmers or immigrants.
2. Entrepreneurship: A large majority of the scheduled castes that have become entrepreneurs have mainly ventured into those activities that deal with their hereditary occupation. They have modified and diversified their hereditary skills in preparing the hides and skins. It is significant to note that 9.37 percent of them have become industrialists out of which nearly six percent are manufacturing a variety of leather goods, such as leather garments, purses, belts, and tool- belts- a hundred percent export product, while rest of them are running shoe factories. A large proportion i.e., 44 percent has become rawhide merchants, and nearly five percent of them have become commission agents of leather. The raw hides are procured from different parts ofPunjab. It is relevant to note that one truck full of raw hides is worth five to seven lakhs rupees and many times they deal with a large number of trucks in a day. There are also small traders who purchase the hides by pieces ranging from rupees 700 to 1100 per piece and after the processing is sold for 1500 to 2000 mainly to cobblers/mochis.  Excessive heat and cold usually perishes many animals. As the data were collected during the months of December- January, the rawhides merchants and agents were visibly busy and contended having a good season. This trade usually takes place in the mornings as the trucks are allowed in the cities during night times only also trucks loaded with raw hides produce foul smell, therefore many small raw hides traders were found running parallel shops of music, D.J. owners, cassettes recordings and PCO/STDs. While other eight percent are running shops of various leather goods- coats, jackets, purses, bags, belts, etc. They have experienced a transformation in their work as now they manufacture the leather goods in their tiny workshops and are selling the same by opening their own shopping outlets. They usually get the material from the leather complex, situated at the outskirts of the city, from where they get pieces of waste leather that can be used for many other purposes. Such as making sports goods- Bats, Balls, Footballs etc. Similarly, another twelve and half percent are running shoe shops. It is quite clear in their case (78%) that their traditional skills still have market in the changing economic scenario. This also explains why this artisan group could survive the onslaught of industrial development. However, many persons engaged in traditional vegetable tanning feel that they are loosing their work, which has been taken over by the tanneries.  A respondent who was carrying on leather tanning for the last fifty years narrates his experiences thus

Entrepreneurial Activities

Entrepreneurial Activities
Numbers
Percentage

Leather Goods Industry
4
6.25
Shoe factory
2
3.13
Raw Hide merchant
28
43.75
Leather commission agent
3
4.69
Property dealer
1
1.56
Saw Mill
2
3.13
Running a School
1
1.56
Leather Goods Shop
5
7.81
Readymade Garments
1
1.56
General store
3
4.69
Karyana shop
1
1.56
Music Shop
1
1.56
Shoe Shop
8
12.50
Tailoring Shop
2
3.13
Electric goods repair shop
1
1.56
Telephone booth
1
1.56
Total
64
100.00


“Earlier 100 persons were engaged in this traditional work and now only ten persons are left in the work to carry on the activities. It has ceased to be profitable as was in the past, because people prefer to buy machine made goods”. He further laments that in “1950 there were 90 units of leather tanning in Boota Mandi, but now only five units of traditional tanning are left and this change has occurred drastically for the last five years”. In the tanneries, many of the Ad-dharmis have become workers though more than half of the workers are migrants who are involved in cleaning, peeling, and stitching of the hides. It means that in order to meet the demand of the work, the migrants are also attracted. Some of the Ad- dharmis have also become workers in sports goods industry located in another locality Basti Nau in Jalandhar. It is significant to mention that many younger generation Ad- dharmis are interested in immigrating to foreign countries while many of their relatives are already settled abroad.
Globalisation has given boost to their traditional occupation. Their market has in fact been extended to all over the world. The process of their mobility and modernity may be explained through the relevance of their hereditary skills in the modern–industrial world. But why did they take up to entrepreneurial activities? It was found that 11 per cent of the respondents considered their earlier occupation stigmatised, 7.81 per cent find their traditional occupation not profitable and lost its demand.  While 63 per cent mentioned that their new work is linked with their caste occupation. Therefore, it is an extension of their traditional work, whereas 17 per cent considered it more profitable, whereas three percent have got the training/ educational qualification to take up to the new occupation. When did this process actually take place? The change started occurring after the independence of the country. A slow process of change in occupation carried over up to the late 1970s (20.41%), another 14.06 percent changed the occupation in the next decade. The pace accelerated in the 90’s when it reached to thirty percent. The first five years of this century have already witnessed transformation in 20 per cent cases. There are 15 percent such cases that did not respond to this question. What was the source of motivation for them to take up to this occupation? For more than fifty per cent respondents the present occupation was related with their hereditary occupation and they have learnt it through experience another 31 percent did it for economic survival and due to self-realisation and awakening (14.06%) besides one case of the impact of social reformers.
It is interesting to note that their fathers (76.56%) and grandfathers (65.62%) were also running the businesses and were carrying on different trading activities. The rest of the respondents’ fathers and grandfathers were engaged in other economic activities. In fact nearly 88 percent of grandfathers’ and 90 percent of fathers’ nature of business activities were at the same prestige level as that of the respondents. Only one case of grandfather and four (8.16 %) cases of fathers were at a higher level of prestige than them.
What kind of preparation they made for taking up to the business activities? It is relevant to mention that seventy two percent of respondents mentioned that it was their hereditary occupation and other sixteen per cent believed that they had experience. Only in case of eight per cent of respondents it is either through education or vocational training. Accordingly, the source of   learning the skill was hereditary (70%), on- the –job/through experience (24%) and private apprenticeship (6%). But how did they start their enterprises? Seventy percent of respondents invested in their enterprises through their personal savings. While their relatives and friends helped nineteen per cent financially, six per cent got financial assistance from the banks and only one of them got the finance from a moneylender. Since Boota Mandi is a market and a residential locality, all the enterprises are located either in the main market or in the residential area.
So far as the conditions of work were concerned, it was found that these entrepreneurs were working rather for long hours. Nearly seventy five percent of them were working between 9 and 12 hours a day for six days in a week with a rest for one day. Since it is a well-established view that in business the relatives, friends and primordial ties do play a very significant role, an attempt was made to find out the participation of family members in various entrepreneurial activities. Though it was found that in case of 60 per cent respondents it was not applicable, in the rest of the cases father/uncle (8%), brother (14%), or son (18%) fully participated in all business activities. Besides the family members, nearly three quarters of them have up to five employees. In the case of big enterprises more than twenty persons are hired to perform various activities. They are also holding managerial positions, besides the accountants, supervisors and a large number of attendants/helpers and labourers. One may get interested to know the caste background of these employees. Are there some persons who belong to upper castes? Interestingly, fifty eight per cent have hired the persons from their own caste. Other eight per cent replied that some of their employees belong to their caste while some belong to upper castes, and three percent mentioned that some of their employees belonged to the same caste as of the respondents while others belong to lower castes. There are thirty per cent such cases in which the respondents either do not know the caste background of their employees or they do not want to disclose it.
In the market economy, commodities are bought or sold on the basis of their quality and performance. We may thus expect that their customers would be from their own caste. The data do not corroborate with the expectations. Ninety five per cent of the respondents mentioned that they had customers belonging to different caste groups of the society- including the upper and lower castes. This process reflects the transformation of the rigid social structure. Further we are interested to know the extent or expansion of their market. Fifty five percent of the respondents have their market locally, three percent have it all over the state, five percent have it up to the whole of North India, and other five percent have spread their market throughout the country. There are six percent such respondents who have also the export business in addition to having business through out the country. Their main export products are shoes, leather purses, Jackets, gloves, tool belts, workman’s gloves, industrial equipment pouches (100 percent export business) and many other leather items depending upon the orders.
Unlike other industries such as textile, iron and steel based in Punjab, the leather and sports goods industry depends upon the raw material that is locally available (51.56%). There are twenty eight percent such cases that are largely engaged in various trading activities including the business in raw hides for which material is locally available. The other twenty percent procure their raw material from the whole state (9.37%), North India (6.25%), and also from throughout the country (4.69%).
All visible indicators reveal that the Ad-dharmis in Boota Mandi are by and large doing well in trade and business, but the information we could gather from them on their investments is highly under stated. The pattern of their investment remains traditional as usual. They started the business with a few thousand rupees and presently, some of them (10%) have grown to crores of rupees of investments.
In the case of Ad-dharmis, the entrepreneurship is rapidly emerging economic phenomena where more than a quarter of their family members have also become entrepreneurs. Some of them are running businesses at the same level while others are doing it at a larger scale. It is relevant to explore that with the globalisation where privatisation and liberalisation of the market have prevailed upon, whether they introduced any changes in the business to be competitive with world market forces. And what kind of problems they are facing as a result of it. A significant number of persons have not yet awakened to the call. They are continuing with the already existing set up. Whereas others have introduced changes in the techniques and mode of work besides the organisational set up. Their major worry is competition- both internal and external. More than thirty percent respondents fear the competition from leather industry of Agra, other big companies and MNCs. The main competition they are facing these days is from China, which is aggressively pumping its goods into the Indian market. Only an insignificant number of persons face problems due to their caste status.

II. A Few Cases of Entrepreneurs

This section of the paper presents a few cases of the socio-economic and political empowerment experienced by the scheduled castes. The cases presented here somehow reveal that though the process of their mobility has accelerated for the last few decades, yet their fathers and grandfathers had already paved the way to success for them. In all the cases, their grandfathers some 80 years ago moved out of the villages to the place where ample opportunities were available in their traditional work. With their sheer hard work, perseverance, business acumen and innovativeness they have become multi millionaires, political representatives, and socially mobile persons.
1. An Illustrious Case of Empowerment: Mr. Surinder Kumar Mahey, an Ad-dharmi has arisen to become the first citizen of Jalandhar - the third largest city of Punjab, that is, he was elected to become the Mayor of the city. Forty-nine years old Mr. Mahey had education not even up to matriculation though his father was a graduate. He has three brothers; one of them is settled in Denmark where he runs an Indian restaurant. His children are getting education but also keenly participate in the family business of raw hides, tanning and in the factory. He is a widely travelled man. He has travelled the whole world. His ancestral place is nearby village, Dhanal, from where his grandfather migrated to this place in 1932. His hereditary occupation is dealing with raw hides while his father also continued with the same business till his death.  He started working with his elder brother but at that time he was more interested in one or the other kind of a social work.  He was busy more as philanthropist. To begin with, in 1978 he started helping the TB patients by getting them admitted in hospital. Up to 1984 he had got almost one thousand TB patients admitted in the hospital. He used to follow the case at least for three years when he would procure medicines for them and would also help in fulfilling their other needs. His elder brother who was looking after him got angry with him for not taking interest in business. Mahey separated himself to start his own independent business for which he borrowed Rs.10000 money from his NRI friend and thirty five hundred from his sister-in-law. With that money he started his own business of raw hides in 1986. In his first sale at Ludhiana he lost rupees thirty five hundred in the deal. Then he moved to Amritsarwhere he could earn profit worth five thousand rupees.  Soon there came traders from Madras who had sales worth 40 lakhs out of which 17 lakhs sale was his contribution. In this deal he could earn profit of four lakhs and thus he became a raw hide’s merchant. After his success in it he started diversification. He started manufacturing tool belts in 1999. This is an export-oriented product, as in India the workers do not wear it. The tool belt made of leather used to be soft and comfortable to wear to which a mechanic would attach various tools needed by him. Thus he has emerged as a very successful entrepreneur. He has constructed a palatial house in the nearby posh colony.
 Though he was elected as a councillor for the first time in 1991 when the democratic procedure was restored.  He continued to win as councillor till June 2002 when he was elected to the post of Mayor of the city. There are total 55 councillors elected in the city, out of which 26 councillors are scheduled castes and rest of them belong to the general category. In spite of opposition from upper castes, he was elected to the post of Mayor. After taking over as the Mayor, he claimed to have carried out many projects particularly for the betterment of the scheduled castes. He thought that the earlier Mayors ignored the development of all the four outer areas around the city that were mainly inhabited by the scheduled castes.    He gave first priority to water supply and got installed 82 tube wells in the surrounding villages, which fall under the jurisdiction of the city corporation. Further, he took over the slum development project again with the emphasis on the drinking water supply and construction of residential quarters for the scheduled castes.
He is strongly of the view that society can develop on the basis of religion. He argues that the Sikhs have a distinct identity on the basis of religion. Similarly, the Hindus have their own distinct identity. All religious groups have their own religious holy book. The dalits are considered a part of Hinduism, but the Hindus do not regard them so in practice. He strongly believes that it is only when they have their own religious book- a collection of the ideas and philosophy of Guru Ravi Dass is compiled and worshiped - the scheduled castes would be able to come up in the social hierarchy by having their own distinct identity. Till such time they do not have their separate religion, they cannot improve their condition. The argument has simple economic explanation, that is, by placing the religious book at a place where devotees would come and the offering would be generated in the form of funds which later are used for establishing school/ colleges and even universities besides the development of the people. So far they visit the Hindu or Sikh religious places and their offerings go to the common pool, which is used for the promotion of their own religion. He was also feeling disgusted at all those dalits who could succeed in life differentiated themselves by changing their religion and caste identity. They never helped their own community members. He was of the view that the scheduled caste people themselves have to come out of their prevailing conditions. For instance if they stop doing dirty jobs- cleaning, sweeping, etc. then the people concerned themselves would do their such unclean jobs. It is the nature of ones work which makes the person low or high.
 2. Becoming of a Seth: Rich, Famous and Honourable: Seth Sat Pal, son of Seth Milkhi Ram, fifty years old multi millionaire is a rawhides merchant. He is educated up to higher secondary while his father was a primary school educated. He has five brothers and two sisters who all are educated up to matriculate/ higher secondary level. His six daughters and a son are graduates while one of her daughters is doing her masters. Besides being rawhides merchant his grandfather had an agency atCalcutta manufacturing bone china. The same agency was carried over by his father till the partition of the country. Also hunters from far off places were coming with their hunts to him to process and stuff the skins. People were coming even with the skins of tigers and lions, dears, stags, python snakes.  (But now for the last fifteen years no such customer has been seen by the people; may be due to the ban put on hunting). He owns a big palatial house beautifully decorated in a nearby posh colony where people with money and status from different castes live. The Seth very proudly comments that “they all invite us to their family functions, as we are rich, powerful and politically well knit”.
   He also disclosed the fact that why almost all the people in Boota Mandi are Chamars. He described that earlier the scheduled caste people did not have the right to get the registration of their houses done. There used to be Rajatnama (a kind of agreement) only which was to be stamped by the Namberdar (the local village revenue collector). His grandfather being the Namberdar would deliberately put stamps only on the papers of the scheduled castes.
            He has visited most of the foreign countries including England, Canada, Germany, USA, and Arabian countries. One of his daughters resides in Dubai. Here again he narrates an occurrence.  Isher Dass, a dalit who did his graduation from Lahorewas appointed Passport officer in Shimla and during his tenure he liberally gave passports to dalits as a result of which a large number of Ad-dharmis could go to foreign countries.
Despite being so rich, he himself actively participates in all the activities of rawhides. His office and godown are situated in the Boota Mandi. He comes to the work place early in the morning as most of the sale and purchase of rawhides takes place in the morning. Seth Sat Pal removes his jacket and trousers and dressed in Kurta Pyjama sits on the heap of rawhides with a note pad. Meanwhile the workers start unloading the truck and simultaneously he starts counting the pieces. Sometime it is mixed skins of buffalo, goat, sheep, and calf while other times it is separately loaded. The hides come to this place from whole ofPunjab and are sold to local tanneries and Muslim merchants from Tamil Nadu. He has a good rapport with outside merchants that he would himself participate in auspicious ceremonies like Id, Bakrid, Ramadan, etc. Some people of the locality even commented that he has converted to Islam.
             In his view, Boota Mandi is like a capital of the scheduled castes. If one has a problem/ trouble can come here and seek the assistance. Lakhs of rupees are collected for the birthday celebrations of Guru Ravi Dass with lot of fervour and gaiety. The sources reveal that on one day the liquor sale from Boota Mandi’s shop goes up to 7 - 8 lakhs. He says that there is a sharp decline in the rawhide market due to high cost of electricity, bank rate of interest, high labour cost and competition fromChina. Chinese synthetic leather has captured half of the market. He comments that animals’ all parts are useful - bones, teeth and skin and out of total 10-15 percent are consumed in India while 85 per cent is exported.
3. A Case of Inter-Generational Occupational and Social Mobility: Steven Kaler, a successful industrialist, a postgraduate, 35 years of age, calls Boota Mandi as his native place though his grandfather migrated to this place in the first decade of 20th century from a nearby town Nakodar. His grandfather was the first postgraduate from this area, while his father studied up to under graduate level. He has five brothers and sisters.  They all are educated and are well placed. His wife is a civil servant. His grandfather moved to Calcutta where he worked and learnt new skills in tanning. He learnt the Bag Tanning, which was better than the indigenous way of tanning. Which later on was improved to Wet Blue tanning. His grandfather became Seth in those days and after learning the technique himself he taught the same too many people in Boota Mandi. His father started his factory in 1925-28 and did a lot of business in finishing the hides. His father also moved to Calcutta in 1960 where he stayed for fifteen years and afterwards resumed his business of rawhides, and semi finished processing of skins. They have an ancestral house in Boota Mandi and all are living in a Joint family. One of his brothers fought elections for three times on the BSP seat.
            After finishing his post graduation in the first position, he was offered a job of lecturer by the local well reputed college; but his father decided to put him to business. As the family has three factories, he moved to Delhi in 1990 to join his factory. This is an export unit where leather garments are manufactured. He remained there for seven years and then he came back and joined the tannery where raw hides are finished and the leather is exported and sold to other companies. He has a turn over of worth Rs.10 crores. He has a big tannery with all the modern machines and techniques. He has employed engineers and other technical personnel besides the skilled workers who belong to different caste groups. They produce finished leather. His company specialises in calf leather, which is very fine and soft usually used in manufacturing Hush Puppies. They supply the finished leather in the international market and their biggest consumer is the USA and other big shoe factories such as Drishshoes etc in India.  Many sports goods industries also located at Jalandhar procure leather particularly for making footballs. Even football shoes are exported from here to East Europe, Ukraine, Austria and Germany. They are facing competition fromChina, Singapore, Taiwan, and Malaysia with regard to finished leather.
            In the 1950s, a modern shoe company- Bawa - now collaborating with Lotus under the brand name Lotus Bawastarted by a Khatri family near the Boota Mandi. They had latest technology and many of the Chamars who had hereditary skill in hides were employed in their factory, which in the process learnt new skills and techniques. It is mentioned that these people who earlier were the employees with Bawa are now running nearly fifty percent units. He believes that education, exposures to foreign countries and money have remained very important variables in their success. For the upliftment of scheduled castes he suggests that the only way is through education. But unfortunately they can afford to go to government schools where teachers are from upper castes that do not have any interest in their development. For him caste is not an important issue but after a certain level class position becomes more important. He narrates that his father in his times used to face the stigma of caste but during his time, particularly in college he along with other boys of his caste used to fight back. His family is virtually a mixed one. The relatives - daughters in law of the family are from Brahmin, Jain and Khatri castes. With regard to questions on inter religious and inter caste marriages many of the respondents including him are of the view that a scheduled caste boy is acceptable, they may get girls but nobody is accepting the scheduled caste girls for upper caste boys. That is why they themselves encourage marriages within their own caste status.

Summing Up

By way of concluding the discussion on empowerment through entrepreneurship, we may discern certain features of their entrepreneurship. Boota Mandi a native place of most of the entrepreneurs has emerged as the most important economic and political centre of Ad-dharmis in Punjab. Here everyday trade of rawhides worth lakhs of rupees takes place.  Now trading of rawhides has concentrated in the hands of big merchants who after its semi finishing and processing send it to far off places. The traditional vegetable tanning of the hides has been replaced by the use of modern chemicals and techniques to make it compatible in the national and international market. The enterprising Ad- dharmis finding the avenues modified their skills and ventured into leather and sports goods industries. They have started manufacturing leather garments, shoes, accessories, and other export-oriented products. As a result of diversification in their work they have been able to earn more profits, which raised their standard of living and they moved up in the social hierarchy. All those artisans who could not cope up with the brunt of industrialisation have become skilled workers in leather-based industries, tanneries and sports industries. They have utilized their traditional skills through industries. Leather being such a commodity that still has relevance, usefulness and is expensive; the Ad- dharmis find much demand for their work. Due to their affluence as a result of entrepreneurship and political representation, they have started asserting their caste status. Assuming their caste differences, they have been able to, though not uniformly; get equal economic status, political representation and social mobility in the society.

Note:  The paper is based on an empirical study conducted under the Major Project awarded by UGC along with Professor Paramjit S. Judge to study “Education, Empowerment, Emigration and Entrepreneurship: A Study of Social Mobility among the Scheduled Castes in Punjab”, 2004-2006.

References
Bal, Gurpreet. 1995. Development and Change in Punjab, National Book Organization, New Delhi
Flamant, Nicolas. 2003. “The Employer and His Enterprise: International leather Shoemakers in Tamil Nadu” in Dorin, Bruno, The Indian Entrepreneur: A Sociological Profile of Businessmen and their Practices. Manohar, New Delhi. Pp101-135.
Judge, Paramjit Singh. 2003. “Punjabis In England: The Ad-Dharmi experience”. The Economic and Political Weekly, Vol.XXXVII, No.31, August 3-9. Pp.3244-3250.
Ram, Ronki 2004. “Untouchability, Dalit Consciousness, and the Ad Dharam Movement in Punjab”. Contributions to Indian Sociology. Vol.38, No.3. Pp.323-349.
Sabarwal, Satish 1990. Mobile Men: Limits to Social Change in Urban Punjab. Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla in association with Manohar Publications, New Delhi.
Source: http://www.ediindia.org/Creed/data/Gurpreet%20Bal.htm


who-says-dalits-under-perform ?


Chandra Bhan Prasad

Chandra Bhan Prasad responds to the debate about extending affirmative action for dalits to the private sector


The debate on affirmative action in the private sector has taken a bizarre turn, not only in terms of results but also in terms of attitude. Led by Ratan Tata, 21 leading Indian industrialists issued an 'emancipation proclamation' on May 31, 2005, pronouncing the entire generation of dalit/tribal people with degrees from Indian institutions "unemployable". Triggered by a newfound 'conscience' they have decided to create a new generation of dalits/tribals through "skill upgradation". They will now give "credible" civil society organisations the task of refining dalit/tribal children, who will in the long run become "competitive" in the job market. Embroiled in the issue of this so-called skill upgradation and a few scholarships to dalit/tribal children, the private sector job debate has been given a sound burial, for the time being at least.


The private sector has reacted sharply since the initiation of a debate by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, a year ago, on whether affirmative action towards dalits/tribals needs to be extended to the private sector.


People and organisations are entitled to their own views; indeed this is an essential ingredient in any democracy. But industry could simply have rejected the government's move.


Instead, it says it will not compromise on what it describes as 'merit'. The question one needs to ask here is whether any agency, government, private sector or sting operation has ever established the fact that dalits selected through reservation under-perform in the workplace.


There are 58,000 dalit/tribal professionals working with public sector enterprises (PSEs) and public sector banks. According to a report by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (1989), there are 21,215 dalits/tribals in managerial/professional positions so senior that they are categorised as Group A, equivalent to the IAS/IPS. Most of these officers are either engineers or IT professionals; many are employed in organisations like BHEL, SAIL, NTPC, ONGC, IOC, MTNL, VSNL, HPCL and GAIL. Has any study been conducted by these organisations to show that dalit professionals under-perform?


BHEL (Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd), for instance, is India's premier engineering goods company with customers spread over 60 countries. BHEL participates in global tenders and has won contracts away from European and American companies. It has been making a profit since 1971. BHEL's Haridwar unit, one of the oldest and most prestigious in the chain of companies, employs 1,200 engineers, amongst whom 189 are dalits/tribals. Has any study found these 189 engineers wanting in their performance?


Industry spokespersons have been saying that India would lose its competitive edge over global players if reservation were forced on the private sector. Does India have a competitive edge over global players? The truth is that the Indian economy is smaller than Mexico's, much smaller than that of Brazil. India has a less than 1% share of the world market. And India is not an IT superpower as its share in the world IT market is less than 3%. This despite the fact that for around a decade India's best talent has gone into IT education.


The truth is, Indian IT companies and professionals do not produce projects, they produce 'spare parts' for projects and help maintain them. We can be said to have 'IT mechanics'. We constitute a cheap labour market. Any individual with basic IT training, given the opportunity, can prove her/his worth irrespective of marks/grades obtained during graduation. How long will industry continue to hide this fact from the public?


Dalits, on the other hand, have been arguing that the private sector is one the biggest beneficiaries of dalit reservation in government jobs. As first and second-generation consumers they spend nearly all they earn. Dalits/tribals invest least in immovable property; their earnings flow directly into the market, so necessary for a market economy to succeed.


On joining the private sector, dalits/tribals expand the consumer base and cause the private sector to flourish. The private sector, instead of examining dalits' claims that reservation/affirmative action helps industry grow, has instead been condemning dalit/tribal communities.


As I understand it there is a very strong practice of affirmative action in the United States. Most American corporations follow aggressive recruitment policies regarding racial/ethnic minorities. In fact, there is hardly any US corporation without a diversity/affirmative action department. As a result, African Americans now comprise 14.08% of the American private sector workforce, though their share of the population is only 13.0%. The famous American magazine [I]Black Enterprise [/I], in its February 2004 issue, profiles 75 most powerful African Americans in corporate America, of whom 18 are CEOs.


Most US corporations follow a mission statement that invariably contains a non-discrimination declaration. In fact, any American company with 50 or more workers submits an annual report to the federal government showing the racial/ethnic proportion of its workforce.


Needless to say, this non-discrimination clause is meant to protect racial/ethnic minorities in the United States. A company that has no or very few African American employees can be charged with practising discrimination.


American corporations entering into business partnerships with foreign corporations mandate the same non-discrimination clause as one of the conditions. That means an Indian company entering into a business partnership with an American company must assure that it will be "non-discriminatory" in its employment practices. That means, in the Indian context, a company entering into a business partnership with an American corporation must do for dalits what American corporations do for African Americans.


Industry spokespersons and organisations have deployed all kinds of arguments in response to the government's initiative to create public consensus on the issue of private sector job reservation. They have used a variety of tricks to manipulate public opinion. The following statement best illustrates how low a respected industry body like the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) is prepared to stoop:


"Many US and European 500 companies that outsource their back office and research work to India provide contracts on the pre-condition that the vendors will be non-discriminatory in their recruitment...if reservations are forced, multinational clients could come under pressure from their shareholders to cancel offshoring contracts." -- CII, February 15, 2005


[I](Chandra Bhan Prasad is [/I][I]a dalit activist, writer and columnist. He is based in New Delhi) [/I]


[B]InfoChange News & Features, June 2005[/B]


कामयाब दलित उद्यमियों की फौज बनाने में जुटे 

क्रांतिकारी सेनानी का नाम है मिलिंद कांबले 

मिलिंद कांबले आधुनिक भारत के वो क्रांतिकारी नेता हैं जिन्होंने बिना किसी नारेबाजी और धरना-प्रदर्शन के ही एक बड़ी क्रांति का सूत्रपात किया। ये क्रांति कोई मामूली क्रांति नहीं है, ये क्रांति एक ऐसा रचनात्मक और सकारात्मक परिवर्तन है जिससे दलितों की सोच बदली, उनके काम करने का अंदाज़ बदला, उन्हें कारोबार की दुनिया में भी अपने पैर जमाने का मौका मिला। मिलिंद कांबले ने दलित चैम्बर ऑफ़ कॉमर्स एंड इंडस्ट्री की स्थापना कर दलित समुदाय के उद्यमियों और कारोबारियों को एकजुट किया। इसी संस्था के ज़रिये मिलिंद ने दलित युवाओं को कारोबार करने के प्रेरित और प्रोत्साहित किया, कारोबार करने के तौर-तरीके दिखाए और समझाए। बड़ी बात तो ये है कि मिलिंद कांबले की पहल और कोशिशों का ही नतीजा है कि हर साल हज़ारों दलित; उद्यमी बन रहे हैं और अपने घर-परिवार, समुदाय-समाज के साथ-साथ देश के विकास में महत्वपूर्ण भूमिका निभाने लगे हैं। इस नयी सामाजिक क्रांति की शुरूआत करने से पहले मिलिंद कांबले ने पहले खुद को कारोबार की दुनिया में स्थापित किया। उद्योग-जगत में धन-दौलत और शोहरत हासिल कर लेने के बाद मिलिंद ने खुद को दलितों के उत्थान और विकास से जुड़े कामों में समर्पित कर दिया। एक साधारण दलित परिवार में जन्मे मिलिंद ने ज्यादा से ज्यादा दलितों को कामयाब कारोबारी बनाने का आसाधारण जन-आंदोलन शुरू किया। अगर मिलिंद चाहते तो अपने कारोबार पर पूरा ध्यान देते हुए तेज़ी से तरक्की कर सकते थे, लेकिन उन्होंने दलितों की मदद करने की ज़िम्मेदारी ली।मिलिंद इन दिनों अगले दस सालों में देश को कम से कम 100 अरबपति देने का सपना लेकर जी रहे हैं। उन्हें पूरा भरोसा है कि उनकी कोशिशें रंग लाएंगी और उनका सपना साकार होगा। इस बात में भी दो राय नहीं कि मिलिंद की कोशिशें कामयाब हो रही हैं। ये उन्हीं की कोशिशों का नतीजा है कि दलित उद्यमियों की एक फौज खड़ी हुई है और इस फौज के सेनानियों की संख्या लगातार बढ़ती जा रही है। दलित समाज के लोग अब सिर्फ नौकरियाँ की ओर भी नहीं देख रहे हैं वे कारोबार की दुनिया में आकर अपने सपनों को साकार करने की भी सोच रहे हैं। एक दलित स्कूली मास्टर के बेटे के कामयाब कारोबारी और फिर कामयाब क्रांतिकारी बनने की कहानी काफी दिलचस्प है। मिलिंद कांबले की कहानी प्रेरणादायक कहानी भी है। इस कहानी में संघर्ष है, जीवन के विविध रोचक रंग हैं, आपाधापी है, उठापठक है, हार न मानने का ज़ज्बा है, समाज के लिए कुछ बड़ा और अच्छा करने की दृढ़ इच्छा-शक्ति है। सबसे बड़ी बात – मिलिंद कांबले की कामयाबी की कहानी से हर इंसान को सीखने-समझने के लिए बहुत कुछ है। 
मिलिंद कांबले की कहानी की शुरूआत महाराष्ट्र राज्य में लातूर जिले के चोबली गाँव से शुरू होती है। इसी गाँव में 17 फ़रवरी, 1967 को उनका जन्म एक दलित परिवार में हुआ। उनके पिता प्रहलाद भगवान कांबले पिता ज़िला परिषद स्कूल में शिक्षक थे, जबकि माँ यशोदा गृहिणी और अशिक्षित थीं। मिलिंद का जन्म दलित परिवार में हुआ। वे अपने माता-पिता की पहली संतान हैं। मिलिंद के पीछे एक छोटा भाई और एक बहन है। बड़ी बात ये है कि मिलिंद कांबले और उनके पिताजी – दोनों जातिगत भेदभाव और छुआछूत का शिकार नहीं रहे। जिस दौर में मिलिंद कांबले का जन्म हुआ था उन दिनों सिर्फ महाराष्ट्र में ही नहीं बल्कि भारत के कई हिस्सों, खासकर गाँवों में दलितों और पिछड़ी जाति के लोगों के साथ जाति के नाम पर भेदभाव, शोषण, हिंसा और छुआछूत की घटनाएँ आम बात थीं। मिलिंद के पिता के जन्म के समय तो हालात और भी खराब थे। लेकिन, मिलिंद और उनके पिता के अनुभव दूसरे दलितजनों से बिलकुल अलग थे और हैं। इसकी एक ख़ास और बड़ी वजह थी।

एक बेहद ख़ास और अंतरंग बातचीत में मिलिंद कांबले ने हमें अपने जीवन की प्रमुख घटनाएं बताईं। मिलिंद ने बताया कि जिस गाँव में उनके पिता का जन्म हुआ था वो गाँव दूसरे गाँवों से बिलकुल अलग था। चोबली गाँव में आर्य समाज का प्रभाव बहुत ज्यादा था। गाँव में आर्य समाज को मानने वाले लोग बड़ी संख्या में थे। चूँकि आर्य समाज शिक्षा, समाज-सुधार और राष्ट्रीयता का आंदोलन था, आर्य समाजी लोग ऊँच-नीच, जात-पात में विश्वास नहीं करते थे। लिहाजा गाँव में भी एक अलग माहौल था और जातिगत भेदभाव न के बराबर था। मिलिंद के पिताजी को गाँव के सवर्ण लोगों ने ही पढ़ा-लिखाकर बड़ा किया था। हुआ हूँ था कि जब मिलिंद के पिता प्रहलाद भगवान की उम्र सात साल की थी तभी उनके पिता यानी मिलिंद के दादा का निधन हो गया था। गाँव में ही रहने वाले सवर्ण जाति के एक व्यक्ति - अन्ना राव पाटिल ने मिलिंद के पिता की परवरिश की। अन्ना राव पाटिल ने मिलिंद के पिता को अपने घर पर ही रखा और उन्हें पढ़ाया-लिखाया। जब मिलिंद के पिता को हाई स्कूल की पढ़ाई के लिए अपने गाँव से करीब तीन किलोमीटर दूर बसे दूसरे गाँव के स्कूल में जाकर पढ़ना पढ़ा तब भी सवर्ण जाति के ही एक दूसरे व्यक्ति – बाला साहब पाटिल ने उनकी मदद की। मिलिंद के पिता बचपन में कभी भी जातिगत भेदभाव का शिकार नहीं हुए। गाँव के कई सवर्णों ने उनकी किसी न किसी रूप में मदद की। सवर्णों की मदद की वजह से ही वे पढ़-लिख पाए और आगे चलकर उन्हें सरकारी नौकरी भी मिली।
सवर्णों से मिली मदद की वजह से मिलिंद के पिता औरंगाबाद के मिलिंद महाविद्यालय से ग्रेजुएशन की पढ़ाई भी कर पाए। इस महाविद्यालय, वहां से मिली शिक्षा, वहां के माहौल, शिक्षकों-सहपाठियों का प्रभाव पिता पर कुछ इतना गहरा था कि उन्होंने अपनी पहली संतान का नाम इसी महाविद्यालय के नाम पर रख दिया। कॉलेज की पढ़ाई पूरी करने के बाद मिलिंद के पिता को सरकारी स्कूल में टीचर की नौकरी मिल गयी। मिलिंद कहते हैं, “आर्य समाज का प्रभाव नहीं होता तो शायद हमारा गाँव भी दूसरे गाँवों जैसा ही होता। उन दिनों दूसरे गाँवों में दलितों की हालत बहुत खराब थी और अक्सर हम लोग दलितों पर अत्याचार और शोषण की घटनाएं सुनते रहते थे।” आर्य समाज का सकारात्मक प्रभाव उनके गाँव पर किस तरह का था, इसे बताने के लिए मिलिंद ने हमें साल 1950 की एक घटना बताई। 1950 में गाँव में पड़े भीषण अकाल को याद करते हुए मिलिंद ने कहा, “उस वक्त पूरे गाँव में एक ही कुँआ ऐसा बचा था जिसमें पानी रह गया था। लेकिन गाँव के सभी लोगों को, चाहे वह सवर्ण हो या फिर दलित, इस कुँए से पानी भरने की छूट थी। जबकि दूसरे गाँवों में सभी के कुएं अलग-अलग थे और दलित के हाथ के छुए पानी को पीना सवर्ण लोग पाप मानते थे। दलितों को सवर्णों के कुवों के पास भी आने नहीं दिया जाता था। लेकिन, हमारे गाँव में उस समय भी सभी लोगों ने एक ही कुँए का पानी पिया।” जब मिलिंद के पिता को सरकारी नौकरी मिल गयी और वे जिला परिषद स्कूल में टीचर बन गए तब समाज में उनका सम्मान और भी बढ़ गया। चूँकि मिलिंद के पिता विद्वान थे, बच्चों को शिक्षा देने में महारत हासिल कर चुके थे, दलित होने के बावजूद समाज में उनका रुतबा काफी बड़ा था।

मिलिंद ने ये भी बताया कि उनके पिता सरकारी स्कूल में टीचर तो बन गए थे लेकिन वे दलितों की बस्ती में ही रहते थे। उन दिनों अलग-अलग जाति के लोगों की अलग-अलग बस्तियां हुआ करती थीं। होता यूँ था कि सवर्ण जाति के लोग दलितों की बस्ती में जाते ही नहीं थे। लेकिन, मिलिंद के गाँव की बात कुछ और थी। चूँकि मिलिंद के पिता टीचर थे और स्कूल से छुट्टी के बाद घर पर ट्यूशन लिया करते थे, सभी जाति और वर्गों के बच्चे उनके घर आया-जाया करते थे। दरअसल पिता के पढ़ाने का तरीका इतना शानदार था कि वे विद्यार्थियों के बीच काफी लोकप्रिय थे। मिलिंद कहते हैं, “हमारे घर में हर तरह के बच्चे पिताजी से ट्यूशन पढ़ने आते थे। मैं भी उन्हीं बच्चों के साथ पढ़ता-लिखता था और खेलता था। मैंने कभी भी बचपन में भेदभाव जैसी चीज़ अनुभव ही नहीं की। मेरे पिताजी बहुत ही अच्छे टीचर थे, और ये बात मैं इसलिए नहीं कह रहा हूँ क्योंकि वे मेरे पिता हैं, वे वाकई बहुत अच्छा पढ़ाते थे।”
मिलिंद अपने भाई और बहन के साथ पढ़ने भी उसी स्कूल में जाते थे जहाँ उनके पिता टीचर थे। एक लोकप्रिय टीचर का बेटा होने के नाते भी मिलिंद की स्कूल में ख़ास पहचान थी। कोई भी उन्हें जाति का चश्मा पहनकर नहीं देखता था। यही वजह थी कि दलित होने के बावजूद मिलिंद को व्यक्तिगत रूप से भेदभाव का सामना नहीं करना पड़ा। महत्वपूर्ण बात ये भी है कि पिता के रुतबे को देखकर मिलिंद को बचपन में ही विश्वास हो गया था कि इंसान के हुनर और काबिलियत में दम हो तो जात-पात के बंधन भी शिथिल हो जाते हैं। अपने शिक्षक पिता का मिलिंद पर खासा प्रभाव था। घर में पढ़ाई-लिखाई का ही माहौल था। मिलिंद खुद भी एक होनहार और मेधावी छात्र थे। स्कूल की पढ़ाई के दौरान ही मिलिंद ने तय कर लिया कि उन्हें बड़ा होकर इंजीनियर बनना है। मिलिंद बताते हैं कि बचपन में उनकी इच्छा मैकेनिकल इंजीनियर बनने की थी। लेकिन एक घटना ऐसी हुई कि जिसके कारण उन्हें सिविल इंजीनियर बनना पड़ा। दरअसल, मिलिंद के एक रिश्तेदार – हनुमंत वाघमारे ने सिविल इंजीनियरिंग की पढ़ाई की थी और जैसी ही वे सिविल इंजीनियर बने उन्हें सरकारी नौकरी मिल गयी। सरकारी नौकरी मिलते ही उनकी शादी भी हो गयी और घर बस गया। एक दिन हनुमंत वाघमारे रॉयल एनफ़ील्ड की नयी ‘बुलेट’ बाइक पर सवार होकर गाँव आये। सारा गाँव उस ‘बुलेट’ की ओर आकर्षित हुआ। लोग ये जानने को बेताब हो गए कि ‘बुलेट’ किसकी है। उन दिनों ‘बुलेट’ समाज में रुतबे, हैसियत और दौलत का प्रतीक हुआ करती थी। लोग यही मानते थे कि जिसके पास ‘बुलेट’ बाइक है उसके पास सब कुछ है और वो सम्पन्न है। गाँव के पाटिल भी ‘बुलेट’ को देखने मिलिंद के मकान की चौखट पर पहुंचे थे। हनुमंत वाघमारे की ‘बुलेट’ का असर मिलिंद के पिताजी पर भी पड़ा। पिता ने फैसला कर लिया कि वे मिलिंद को भी सिविल इंजीनियर ही बनाएंगे। वैसे भी उन दिनों सिविल इंजीनियरों की मांग काफी ज्यादा थी। देश-भर में नए-नए भवन बनाये जा रहे थे, छोटे-बड़े पुल और बाँध बन रहे थे, नयी सड़कें बिछाई जा रही थीं और इन सब की वजह से सिविल इंजीनियरों की डिमांड काफी ज्यादा थी। रिश्तेदार की ‘बुलेट’ के असर में मिलिंद के पिता ने ठान ली थी कि वे भी अपने बड़े बेटे को सिविल इंजीनियर ही बनाएंगे। उस रात हनुमंत वाघमारे मिलिंद के घर पर ही ठहरे। बातचीत के दौरान हनुमंत वाघमारे ने मिलिंद के पिता को सुझाव दिया कि उन्हें अपने बेटे को दसवीं के तुरंत बाद पॉलिटेक्निक कॉलेज में डालना चाहिए ना कि इंटर कॉलेज में। उनका कहना था कि अगर किसी को इंजीनियर बनना है तो दसवीं के बाद पॉलिटेक्निक करने से समय और रुपये – दोनों की बचत होती है। उनकी दलील थी कि दसवीं के बाद इंटरमीडिएट की पढ़ाई में दो साल लगते हैं और फिर बीटेक में चार साल। यानी दसवीं के बाद इंटर के रास्ते से इंजीनियर बनने में छह साल लगते हैं। उनका ये भी कहना था कि ज्यादातर विद्यार्थी बीटेक का कोर्स पांच साल में पूरा करते हैं, यानी दसवीं के बाद इंटर के रास्ते से बीटेक करने में सात साल भी लग सकते हैं। हनुमंत वाघमारे का कहना था कि दसवीं के बाद पॉलिटेक्निक कोर्स के रास्ते बीटेक करना फायदेमंद है। पॉलिटेक्निक डिप्लोमा कोर्स दो साल में पूरा हो जाता है और इसके बाद बीटेक का कोर्स सिर्फ तीन साल का रह जाता है, यानी दसवीं के बाद पॉलिटेक्निक के रास्ते बीटेक की डिग्री सिर्फ पांच साल में ही मिल जाती है। हनुमंत वाघमारे की इन बातों से प्रभावित मिलिंद के पिता ने भी फैसला कर लिया वे भी अपने बड़े बेटे का दाखिला पॉलिटेक्निक कॉलेज में ही करवाएंगे। और, आगे हुआ भी ऐसे ही। मिलिंद ने 1983 में जैसे ही दसवीं पास की, उनका दाखिला नांदेड के पॉलिटेक्निक कॉलेज में करवा दिया गया। डिप्लोमा का कोर्स था, सिविल इंजीनियरिंग का।

पॉलिटेक्निक की पढ़ाई के दौरान कुछ ऐसी घटनाएं हुईं जिसने मिलिंद के मन- मस्तिष्क पर गहरी छाप छोड़ी और उन्होंने अपने भविष्य की योजनाओं और परियोजनाओं की रूप-कल्पना की। ऐसी ही एक घटना उस समय हुई जब वे पॉलिटेक्निक की पढ़ाई के तहत ‘प्रोजेक्ट-वर्क’ पर थे। हुआ यूँ था ‘प्रोजेक्ट-वर्क’ के लिए मिलिंद को अपने कुछ सहपाठियों के साथ एक कंस्ट्रक्शन साइट पर जाना पड़ा। जो ठेकेदार कंस्ट्रक्शन करवा रहे थे वे नांदेड़ पॉलिटेक्निक कॉलेज के ही एक पूर्व छात्र थे और जैसे ही उन्हें पता चला कि उनके कॉलेज के लड़के आये हैं वे उनसे मिलने साईट पर आ गए। उस कांट्रेक्टर का नाम विलास बियानी था और उनकी ठाट-बाट और अंदाज़ से मिलिंद बहुत प्रभावित हुए। विलास युवा थे और महिंद्रा की जीप पर सवार होकर साइट पर आये थे। मिलिंद को पता चला कि विलास बियानी पिछले पांच सालों से ही कंस्ट्रक्शन की दुनिया में हैं और इन्हीं पांच सालों में उन्होंने अच्छी-खासी धन-दौलत कमा ली है। विलास बियानी ने एक ठेके में हुए फायदे से ही महिन्द्रा जीप खरीदी थी। मिलिंद को ये भी अहसास हुआ कि उनके रिश्तेदार हनुमंत वाघमारे करीब चार साल तक सरकारी नौकरी करने के बाद बुलेट बाइक खरीद पाए थे जब कि एक ही ठेके से हुए फायदे में विलास बियानी ने जीप खरीद ली थी। विलास बियानी ने उनकी कंस्ट्रक्शन साइट पर आये विद्यार्थियों को अपनी कामयाबी के राज़ भी बताये। बियानी ने विद्यार्थियों को बताया कि कामयाब होने के लिए दृढ़ संकल्प ज़रूरी है, बिना कठोर निश्चय और मेहनत के कामयाबी नहीं मिल सकती। विलास बियानी ने ये भी बताया कि ठेकेदार बनने से पहले उन्होंने करीब 18 महीनों तक एक कंस्ट्रक्शन कंपनी में बतौर साइट मैनेजर काम किया। साइट मैनेजर का काम करते हुए उन्होंने कंस्ट्रक्शन बिज़नेस की बारीकियां सीखीं, और जब अनुभव हासिल कर लिया जब जाकर उद्यमी बने। विलास बियानी की बातों से मिलिंद बहुत प्रभावित हुए। बियानी की एक और बात थी जो मिलिंद के दिमाग में जम गयी। बियानी ने उस दिन विद्यार्थियों से कहा था कि आने वाले दिनों में पुणे में कंस्ट्रक्शन का काम काफी जोर पकड़ेगा। मुंबई में कंस्ट्रक्शन के लिए ज़मीन ख़त्म होती जा रही है और चूँकि पुणे मुंबई से नज़दीक है और वहां ज़मीन बहुत खाली है इसी वजह से आने वाले दिनों में बड़ी-बड़ी कंपनियां और लोग पुणे का रुख करेंगे। बियानी की बातें सुनने के बाद मिलिंद ने एक बड़ा फैसला लिया। उन्होंने मन ही मन ठान ली कि वे भी कारोबारी बनेंगे और सरकारी नौकरी नहीं करेंगे। बियानी की बातें सुनने से पहले मिलिंद अपने पिता प्रहलाद भगवान और ‘बुलेट’ वाले रिश्तेदार हनुमंत वाघमारे की तरह सरकारी नौकरी करने के सपने बुन रहे थे। उनका इरादा था कि वे भी हनुमंत वाघमारे की तरह ही पहले पॉलिटेक्निक कोर्स पूरा करेंगे और फिर बीटेक की डिग्री लेकर सरकारी नौकरी पाने की कोशिश में जुट जाएंगे। चूँकि दलित थे उन्हें भरोसा था कि आरक्षण के आधार पर उन्हें सरकारी नौकरी मिल जाएगी। लेकिन, बियानी की बातों ने मिलिंद के सपने बदल दिए। अब उनके मन में उद्यमी और कारोबारी बनने के सपने मजबूत होने लगे थे।
अपने माता-पिता और दूसरे रिश्तेदारों की इच्छा के बिलकुल विपरीत सरकारी नौकरी न करने का फैसला लेने के पीछे एक और बड़ा कारण भी था। मिलिंद ने हमें बताया कि जब वे नांदेड में पॉलिटेक्निक का कोर्स कर रहे थे तब वे ‘दलित पैंथर्स’ के संपर्क और प्रभाव में आये। उन दिनों यानी अस्सी के दशक में ‘दलित पैंथर्स’ का आंदोलन महाराष्ट्र में ज़ोरों पर था। ‘दलित पैंथर्स’ एक ऐसा सामाजिक और राजनैतिक संगठन था जो दलितों के अधिकारों की रक्षा के लिए संघर्ष और आंदोलन कर रहा था। दलितों को एकजुट करना भी ‘दलित पैंथर्स’ का एक बड़ा मकसद था। जहाँ कहीं किसी दलित या फिर दलितों पर कोई अत्याचार या अन्याय होता तब ‘दलित पैंथर्स’ के बैनर तले दलित लोग संगठित होते और अन्याय और अत्याचार के खिलाफ लड़ाई करते। विद्यार्थियों के बीच ‘दलित पैंथर्स’ की लोकप्रियता चरम पर थी। दलित विद्यार्थी होने के नाते मिलिंद का ‘दलित पैंथर्स’ के प्रति आकर्षण और प्रेम स्वाभाविक था। छोटी उम्र से ही मिलिंद ने ‘दलित पैंथर्स’ के कार्यक्रमों, आंदोलनों, प्रदर्शनों में हिस्सा लेना शुरू कर दिया था। इन्हीं आंदोलनों और धरना-प्रदर्शनों के दौरान एक बात मिलिंद को बहुत खटकती थी। मिलिंद ने देखा था कि जब कभी आंदोलनों और धरना-प्रदर्शनों के दौरान पुलिस ‘दलित पैंथर्स’ के नेताओं और कार्यकर्ताओं को गिरफ्तार करने आती थी तब दलित वर्ग के सरकारी कर्मचारी अलग हो जाते थे और गिरफ्तारी नहीं देते थे। मिलिंद ने इस बात की वजह का पता लगाने की कोशिश की। मिलिंद को मालूम हुआ कि आंदोलन के दौरान गिरफ्तार होने पर पुलिस थाने में नाम दर्ज हो जाता है और फिर सरकारी कर्मचारी को ससपेंड कर दिया जाता है। नौकरी से निलंबन के डर से सरकारी कर्मचारी गिरफ्तारी नहीं देते और पुलिस के आते ही आंदोलन-स्थल से चले जाते हैं। मिलिंद को लगा कि अगर वे भी सरकारी कर्मचारी या अफसर बनेंगे तो आंदोलनों में खुलकर हिस्सा लेने की उनकी आज़ादी चली जाएगी। ये बात भी उस फैसले की एक बड़ी वजह बनी जहाँ उन्होंने सरकारी नौकरी न करने और कारोबार करने की सोची। उन्हें लगा कि कारोबार किया जाये तो अधिक पैसा भी कमाया जा सकता है और इन्हीं रुपयों से कुछ सामाजिक कार्य किये जा सकते हैं और किसी तरह का बंधन भी नहीं होगा। मजाकिया अंदाज में मिलिंद ये भी कहते हैं, “सरकारी नौकरी में दर्ज़ा है, ऐशो-आराम नहीं है। सरकारी नौकरी करने पर कई सीमाएं हैं। तरह-तरह के बंधन है। बंदिशें हैं। सरकारी अधिकारी भले ही वह आईएएस क्यों न हो, अपने नाम पर बीएमडब्लू या फरारी नहीं ले सकते हैं। अगर लेंगे तो इनफोर्समेंट डायरेक्ट्रेट जैसी संस्थाऐं पीछे पड़ जायेंगी, मगर बिसनेसमैन पर ऐसी कोई रोक नहीं है।” ऐसा भी नहीं था मिलिंद सिर्फ ‘दलित पैंथर्स’ से ही प्रभावित थे। वे अखिल भारतीय विद्यार्थी परिषद (एबीवीपी) के प्रभाव में भी आये। उन दिनों कई कालेजों में एबीवीपी का दबदबा था। एबीवीपी के कई कार्यकर्ता भी मिलिंद के दोस्त बनें।

जिंदगी में खूब धन-दौलत कमाने, शोहरत हासिल करने, और सरकारी कामकाज के बंधनों में जकड़े न जाकर पूरी आज़ादी और ताकत के साथ दलितों के उत्थान के लिए काम करने के मज़बूत इरादे के साथ मिलिंद ने कारोबार का रास्ता इख्तियार किया। गौरतलब बात ये भी है कि इंजीनियरिंग कॉलेज में मिलिंद का दाखिला दलितों के लिये आरक्षित कोटे के तहत हुआ था, लेकिन स्कॉलरशिप का लाभ उन्हें नहीं मिला। मिलिंद कहते हैं, “मुझे रिजर्वेशन का आधा लाभ मिला। पिताजी की इनकम थी इसी वजह से स्कालरशिप नहीं मिली, लेकिन मेरा एडमिशन रिजर्वेशन के आधार पर ही हुआ था।”

मिलिंद का बचपन और विद्यार्थी जीवन अच्छे से बीता। उन्हें किसी तरह का कोई अभाव नहीं रहा। चूँकि वे एक टीचर के बेटे थे और उनका उठाना-बैठना, खेलना-कूदना, पढ़ना-लिखना दूसरे टीचरों के बच्चों के साथ होता था, वे हमेशा अच्छे माहौल में रहे। पढ़ने-लिखने के लिए किताबों की कोई कमी नहीं रही। दूसरे बच्चों के साथ विचारों और ज्ञान-विज्ञान की बातों के आदान-प्रदान से उनकी मेधा-शक्ति लगातार बढ़ी। मिलिंद पढ़ाई-लिखाई में तेज़ थे, कॉलेज की पढ़ाई पूरी करने के बाद उन्हें सरकारी नौकरी आसानी से मिल सकती थी, लेकिन तब तक वे ये तय कर चुके थे कि उन्हें नौकरी नहीं करनी है बल्कि खुद का कारोबार स्थापित करना है। इंजीनियरिंग शिक्षा के बाद राज्य के लोकनिर्माण और सिंचाई विभाग की बेहतर नौकरियाँ मिलिंद का इंतजार कर रही थीं, पर मिलिंद इन नौकरियों को ठोकर मार रहे थे। मिलिंद के इस फैसले से उनके पिता भी उनसे नाराज हो गये। जिस सरकारी नौकरी के लिये आमतौर पर युवा काफी ललायित रहते हैं, आखिर उनका बेटा वो नौकरी क्यों नहीं करना चाहता है? ये सवाल मिलिंद के पिता को बहुत परेशान कर रहा था। सरकारी नौकरियों के विज्ञापन आये दिन निकल रहे थे लेकिन बार-बार कहने के बाद भी मिलिंद अपनी अर्जी नहीं दे रहे थे।
मिलिंद ने साल 1987 में इंजीनियरिंग की डिग्री हासिल कर ली थी, लेकिन वे सरकारी नौकरी से दूर भागते रहे और उद्यमी बनने के रास्ते तलाशते रहे। कारोबार शुरू करने के लिए मिलिंद के पास खुद की पूंजी भी नहीं थे और वे अपने पिता से माँगना भी नहीं चाहते थे। वे घर-परिवार में कारोबारी बनने की अपनी इच्छा बता चुके थे लेकिन कोई भी उनका समर्थन करने को तैयार नहीं था। लेकिन बेटे की इच्छा-शक्ति का अंदाज़ा लगाकर माँ यशोदा ने मिलिंद को पांच सौ रुपये दिए और अपने हिसाब से काम करने को कहा। वही पांच सौ रुपये लेकर मिलिंद पुणे के लिए रवाना हुआ। उन्होंने लातूर से पुणे के लिए बस पकड़ी और आठ घंटे के थकावट भरे सफ़र के बाद पुणे पहुंचे। लातूर से निकलने से पहले मिलिंद ने ‘दलित पैंथर्स’ और अखिल भारतीय विद्यार्थी परिषद में अपने दोस्तों से पुणे में उनके दोस्तों का पता लिया था। पुणे पहुँचते ही मिलिंद ‘दलित पैंथर्स’ के कार्यकर्ता एस गायकवाड के पास पहुंचे, जोकि वहां ऑटोरिक्शा चलाकर अपनी गुज़र-बसर करते थे। गायकवाड पुणे में एक कमरे के मकान में रहते थे और मिलिंद को इसी कमरे में रहना पड़ा।

पुणे के शुरूआती दिन मिलिंद के लिए काफी तकलीफदेय थे, लेकिन जो बड़े-बड़े सपने लेकर वे पुणे आये थे उन्हें पूरा करने की प्रबल इच्छा उन्हें हर तकलीफ सहने की ताकत दे रही थी। मिलिंद भले ही हमेशा से नौकरी के बजाय कारोबार करने में रूचि रखते रहे हों, लेकिन वे ये बात भी अच्छी तरह जानते थे कि बिना अनुभव के कारोबार नहीं किया जा सकता। इसीलिये अनुभव लेने के मकसद से उन्होंने पुणे में नौकरी करने का मन बनाया । वैसे भी पुणे जैसे बड़े शहर में उन्हें अपने पाँव जमाने के लिए रुपये जुटाने की ज़रुरत थी और वे चाँद नोटों से कारोबार शुरू नहीं कर सकते थे। मिलिंद पुणे में जिस शख्स के एक कमरानुमा मकान में ठहरे थे वो एक अकाउंटेंट को जानता था जो एक कंस्ट्रक्शन कंपनी में काम करता था। गायकवाड ने मिलिंद का परिचय अपने उस परिचित अकाउंटेंट से करवा दिया। उसी अकाउंटेंट की मदद से मिलिंद को अपनी ज़िंदगी की पहली नौकरी मिल गयी। ज़ॉप माहल्घी एसोसिएट्स नाम की इस कंपनी में मिलिंद की तनख्वाह सात सौ रुपये महीना तय की गयी थी। कुछ महीने इस कंपनी में काम करने के बाद मिलिंद ने महर्षि कर्वे संस्था नाम की दूसरी कंस्ट्रक्शन कंपनी ज्वाइन कर ली, यहाँ उनकी तनख्वाह 1750 रुपये महीना तय की गयी। इस कंपनी से पहली तनख्वाह लेते ही मिलिंद ने सबसे पहले अपने लिए पुणे में एक मकान लिया। उन्होंने सिंगल बेडरूम वाला फ्लैट किराये पर लिया। साइट पर आने-जाने में सहूलियत हो इस मकसद से किश्तों पर साइकल भी खरीदी। लेकिन, इस कंपनी में भी मिलिंद ज्यादा दिन तक नहीं टिक पाए। इस कंस्ट्रक्शन कंपनी के मालिक के कामकाज का तरीका मिलिंद को पसंद नहीं आया। इस कंपनी का मालिक पुणे शहर के बाहर से रेत, कंकड़ और सीमेंट का मिक्सचर तैयार करवाता था और फिर उसे पुणे में अपनी कंस्ट्रक्शन साइट्स पर इस्तेमाल करता था। रुपयों की बचत के मकसद से मालिक मिक्सचर शहर के बाहर से मंगवाता था। शहर के बाहर से मिक्सचर को साइट तक पहुँचने में एक घंटे से ज्यादा का समय लग जाता था। सिविल इंजीनियरिंग के नियमों के मुताबिक, रेत, कंकड़ और सीमेंट का मिक्सचर बनाने के बाद एक घंटे के भीतर उसका इस्तेमाल कर लिया जाना चाहिए वरना उससे बनने वाला भवन, मकान कमज़ोर होता है। जैसे ही मिलिंद को पता चला कि रेत, कंकड़ और सीमेंट का मिक्सचर शहर के बाहर से आता और उसे साइट पर पहुँचने में एक घंटे से ज्यादा समय लग जाता है तब उन्होंने उस मिक्सचर का इस्तेमाल करने से साफ़ मना कर दिया। मिलिंद को लगा कि साइट इंजीनियर ने नाते उनका ये फ़र्ज़ था कि वे बनकर एक घंटे से ज्यादा हो चुके मिक्सचर का इस्तेमाल नहीं कर सकते हैं। जैसे ही मिलिंद ने उस मिक्सचर का इस्तेमाल करने से मना कर दिया मालिक नाराज़ हो गया। मिलिंद ने मालिक से साफ़ कह दिया कि वे गुणवत्ता और नियम-कायदों के मामले में किसी तरह का कोई भी समझौता नहीं कर सकते हैं। अपने इसी सख्त रुख/रवय्ये की वजह से मिलिंद ने वो नौकरी छोड़ दी। इसी कंपनी के एक मिस्त्री ने उन्हें मंत्री हाउसिंग कंपनी के बारे में बताया। मिलिंद नौकरी की अर्जी लेकर मंत्री हाउसिंग कंपनी के दफ्तर पहुंचे। जब इस कंपनी के मालिक को पिछले कंपनी में मिक्सचर वाली घटना का पता चला तब उन्होंने फट से मिलिंद को ये कहते हुए नौकरी पर रख लिया कि मुझे तुम्हारे जैसे इंजीनियरों की ही ज़रुरत है। पुणे में मिलिंद की ये तीसरी नौकरी थी और यहाँ उनकी तनख्वाह 3750 रुपये महीना तय की गयी थी।
मंत्री हाउसिंग कंपनी के लिए काम करते हुए ही मिलिंद ने कारोबारी बनने के अपने सपने को साकार करने की कोशिश भी तेज़ कर दी। उन्होंने मिलिंद कांबले सिविल इंजीनियर्स एंड कॉन्ट्रैक्टर्स नाम से अपनी कंपनी बनाई और उसका पंजीकरण भी करवा लिया। मिलिंद ने कहा, “नौकरी करते-करते मन ऊब गया था। मैंने खुद से कहा इनफ इस इनफ, मैं पुणे बिज़नेस करने आया था और मुझे बिज़नेस ही करना चाहिए। मैंने फिर प्राइवेट काम ढूँढना शुरू कर दिया।” मंत्री हाउसिंग कंपनी की नौकरी के दौरान अपनी छुट्टी वाले दिन मिलिंद काम की तलाश में निकलते थे। और इसी तलाश में एक दिन उन्हें कारोबारी और ठेकेदार बनने का मौका मिल गया।

मिलिंद वो दिन कभी नहीं भूल सकते हैं जब उन्हें किसी काम के लिए पहला ठेका मिला था। उन्हें पुणे के बृहन महाराष्ट कॉलेज ऑफ़ कॉमर्स (बीएमसीसी) की बाउन्ड्री वॉल बनाने का काम/ठेका मिला था। अखबार में इस काम के लिये निविदा आमंत्रित की गई थी। इस निविदा के बारे में उनके एक मित्र ने उन्हें बताया था। चूँकि काम छोटा था इसी वजह से बड़ी कंपनियों ने काम में दिलचस्पी नहीं दिखाई, लेकिन मिलिंद को अपना नया काम शुरू करना था। उन्हें इस निविदा में एक बहुत बड़ा सुअवसर नज़र आया और उन्होंने टेंडर भरा। मिलिंद को काम मिल गया। लेकिन, ये काम पूरा करने के लिये उनके पास पर्याप्त रुपये नहीं थे। इस बार भी सवर्ण लोगों ने ही मिलिंद की मदद की। मिलिंद ने अखिल भारतीय विद्यार्थी परिषद से जुड़े अपने दो मित्रों – जोशी और फडके से 5-5 हजार रुपये उधार लिये और खुद 15 हजार रुपये की जमा-पूँजी मिलाई और इस प्रकार 25000 रुपये जमाकर अपना पहला काम पूरा किया। मिलिंद के काम से बीएमसीसी के प्रिंसिपल भी बहुत प्रभावित हुए और आगे चलकर प्रिंसिपल ने उन्हें महर्षि कर्वे स्त्री शिक्षण संस्थान मीम मरम्मत के काम का एक ठेका भी दिलवाने में मदद की।

मिलिंद को जैसी ही पहला ठेका/काम मिला था उन्होंने नौकरी छोड़ दी। उन्होंने ठेकेदार बनने से पहले पुणे में तीन अलग-अलग कंपनियों में नौकरी की। इस दौरान मिलिंद ने कंस्ट्रक्शन से जुड़ी हरेक बारीकी को अच्छी तरह से सीखा और समझा। दिन भर चिलचिलाती धूप में साइट पर खड़े होकर अपने सामने काम पूरी गुणवत्ता और संतोष के साथ पूरा करवाना उनकी आदत में शुमार हो गया। नौकरीपेशा ज़िंदगी के दौरान मिलिंद ने मजदूरों, मिस्त्रियों के कामकाज के तरीके, उनकी दिक्कतों, समस्याओं को भी जाना-समझा। उन्होंने कंस्ट्रक्शन इंडस्ट्री की मौजूद हालत का भी अध्ययन किया। अपने आप को पूरी तरह से तैयार करने के बाद मिलिंद ने कारोबारी दुनिया में कदम रखा। उन्होंने अपने काम से सभी को प्रभावित किया।

ठेकेदारी के शुरूआती दिनों में मिलिंद ने मुनाफे पर ज्यादा ध्यान नहीं दिया, उनका मकसद बढ़िया काम करना और एक बढ़िया ठेकेदार के रूप में नाम कमाना था। बीएमसीसी का ठेका मिलने के बाद मिलिंद को ठेके मिलते गए और उनका कारोबारी जीवन चल पड़ा। अपने ठेकेदारी जीवन के पहले साल में मिलिंद ने करीब साढ़े छह लाख रूपये का कारोबार किया। लेकिन, वे इस कारोबार से संतुष्ट नहीं थे। वे और भी बड़े बाद करना चाहते थे, बहुत बड़े कारोबारी बनना चाहते थे। उन्होंने बड़ी-बड़ी परियोजनाओं और अपने लिए बड़े-बड़े मौकों की तलाश शुरू की। इसी दौरान उनकी मुलाकात अनिल कुमार मिश्रा से हुई। मिश्रा उत्तर प्रदेश के हरदोई के रहने वाले थे और रेलवे का काम किया करते थे। मिलिंद की मुलाकात मिश्रा से अचानक ही हुई थी। एक दिन मिलिंद किसी काम के सिलसिले में एक सीमेंट के व्यापारी के यहाँ गए हुए थे वहीं उनकी मुलाकात पहली बार मिश्रा से हुई थी। मिलिंद ने ही बातचीत की पहल की और दोनों ने एक दूसरे को अपने कामकाज के बारे में बताया। आगे की मुलाकातों में मिलिंद ने ही अनिल कुमारा मिश्रा से रेलवे का काम करने की इच्छा जताई। रेलवे के पंजीकृत कॉन्ट्रेक्टर्स में शामिल न होने के कारण मिलिंद के लिये सीधे रेलवे के ठेके लेना संभव नहीं था लेकिन अनिल मिश्रा ने उन्हें अपने कॉन्टेक्ट्स सबलेट करने का प्रस्ताव दिया। मिलिंद को ये प्रस्ताव भा गया। इसके बाद उन्होंने ऐसे कई कामों को अंजाम दिया। अनिल कुमार मिश्रा के साथ मिलिंद कांबले की ये साझेदारी काफी लंबी चली। बाद में मिलिंद, अनिल मिश्रा की एक कंपनी में साझेदार भी बन गये। 
मिलिंद और मिश्रा की जोड़ी कई मायनों में अनोखी थी। मिलिंद कांबले दलित थे जब कि अनिल कुमार मिश्रा ब्राह्मण यानी सवर्ण जाति के। मिलिंद महाराष्ट्र में स्थानीय थे जबकि मिश्रा उत्तरप्रदेश से आकर महाराष्ट्र में कारोबार कर रहे थे। मिलिंद को बड़ी-बड़ी परियोजनाओं और बड़े-बड़े ठेकों की तलाश थी जबकि अनिल कुमार मिश्रा महाराष्ट्र सरकार की परियोजनाएं पाने की जीतोड़ कोशिश कर रहे थे। मिश्रा को पुणे में एक ऐसे व्यक्ति की तलाश थी जो स्थानीय हो और उन्हें उनका कारोबार बढ़ाने में उनकी मदद कर सके। जब मिलिंद और मिश्रा एक दूसरे से मिले तो दोनों को लगा कि वे एक दूसरे की मदद कर सकते हैं। मिलिंद मिश्रा की बहुत सारी बातों से प्रभावित थे। मिलिंद को मिश्रा का पहनावा, उनके बातचीत करने का अंदाज़ अच्छा लगा। मिलिंद सम्मानपूर्वक मिश्र को ‘पंडितजी’ कहने लगे थे। दोनों की दोस्ती और साझेदारी खूब फली-फूली भी और दोनों ने खूब धन-दौलत और शोहरत हासिल की।

मिलिंद ने कारोबार की दुनिया में अपने पैर जमा लेने के बाद शादी की। मई 19 95 में मिलिंद ने सीमा से शादी की। शादी के बाद मिलिंद की तरक्की की रफ़्तार और भी बढ़ी। मिलिंद को बड़ी-बड़ी परियोजनाएं मिलीं। कुछ ही सालों में मिलिंद ने अपने आप को पुणे में एक बड़े कारोबारी और बिल्डर के रूप में स्थापित कर लिया। उनकी कंपनी का कारोबार और मुनाफा साल दर साल बढ़ता गया। ऐसा भी नहीं था कि कारोबारी के तौर पर मिलिंद की राह आसान थी और उन्हें कोई दिक्कत नहीं हुई। मिलिंद के मुताबिक, मुश्किलें बहुत थीं। वे कहते हैं,“किसी भी बड़े काम को पूरा करने में बाधाओं का आना निश्चित है। कोई भी इंसान तभी कामयाब होता है जब वो इन बाधाओं को पार लगाना सीख लेता है। मैंने मन लगाकर काम किया, हमेशा ईमानदारी से काम किया, कभी किसी को धोका नहीं दिया। मैं आज जो भी हूँ उससे खुश हूँ।” बतौर बिल्डर मिलिंद के कामयाब और लोकप्रिय होने की एक बड़ी वजह ये भी रही कि उन्होंने अपने सारे काम समय पर पूरे किये और गुणवत्ता के मामले में किसी तरह को कोई समझौता नहीं किया। सर्वश्रेष्ट काम करना और काम को तय समय के भीतर पूरा करना – इसी मंत्र को लेकर मिलिंद ने कारोबार किया और कंस्ट्रक्शन इंडस्ट्री में अपनी अलग पहचान बनाई।

बातचीत के दौरान मिलिंद ने हमें अपने अब तक के कारोबारी जीवन की सबसे बड़ी चुनौती और सबसे मुश्किलों भरे दौर के बारे में भी बताया। पुराने दिनों को याद करते हुए मिलिंद ने बताया, “ हमें कृष्णा वैली डेवलपमेंट कॉर्पोरेशन का काम मिला था। काम के दौरान बहुत दिक्कतें आयीं। कुछ अफसरों ने बहुत परेशान किया। हमने एंटी करप्शन विभाग में शिकायत कर दी। हमारी शिकायत पर एंटी करप्शन विभाग ने कई जगह छापे मारे। इन छापों के बाद स्थिति और भी खराब हो गई। विभाग के सभी अधिकारी हमारे खिलाफ हो गये। दूसरे अधिकारियों को इस बात का गुस्सा था कि हमने उनके विभाग के अधिकारियों के खिलाफ शिकायत कर छापे मरवाए हैं। सभी अधिकारी एक तरफ हो गए। ऐसी हालत में काम पूरा करना आसान नहीं था, लेकिन हमने पूरी ईमानदारी से काम किया और काम बहुत अच्छे से किया।” बड़ी बात ये है कि मिलिंद ने कभी भी नाइंसाफी, अत्याचार, भ्रष्टाचार को नहीं सहा। हमेशा उन्होंने गलत कामों के खिलाफ अपनी आवाज़ उठाई। ऐसा करने पर कभी उन्हें अपनी नौकरी से हाथ धोना पड़ा, तो कभी अधिकारियों की खिलाफत और नाराजगी झेलनी पड़ी। मिलिंद ने हमेशा हिम्मत, मेहनत और ईमानदारी के दम नाइंसाफी, अत्याचार, भ्रष्टाचार के खिलाफ लड़ाई लड़ी।
बतौर कारोबारी अब तक की अपनी सबसे बड़ी कामयाबी की बाबत पूछे गए एक सवाल के जवाब में मिलिंद ने बारामती पानी पहुंचाने से जुड़े काम का ज़िक्र किया। मिलिंद ने बताया कि साल 2003 में उन्हें बारामती के लोगों को पानी पहुंचाने के लिए पाइपलाइन बिछाने का काम मिला। मिलिंद की कंपनी के ये काम शानदार तरीके से पूरा किया। मिलिंद ने कहा, “बारामती को पाने पहुँचाने का काम बड़ा काम था। पानी को लिफ्ट करके वहां पहुँचाना था, हमने ये काम भी पूरा किया।” गौरतलब है कि बारामती महाराष्ट्र के कद्दावर नेता, पूर्व मुख्यमंत्री और पूर्व केंद्रीय मंत्री शरद पवार का निर्वाचन-क्षेत्र है। इसी वजह से मिलिंद बड़े फक्र के साथ ये कहते हैं, “बारामती के लोगों को हम ही पानी पिला रहे हैं।” इस तरह की कई बड़ी-बड़ी योजनाओं और परियोजनाओं को कामयाब बनाते हुए मिलिंद ने खूब नाम कमाया।

कारोबार की दुनिया में खुद को मजबूती से स्थापित कर लेने के बाद मिलिंद ने एक क्रांतिकारी फैसला लिया। इस फैसले ने मिलिंद की शख्सियत को एक नया आयाम दिया, एक नयी ऊंचाई दी। मिलिंद ने फैसला किया कि वे दलित वर्ग के लोगों को कारोबार करने के लिए प्रोत्साहित करेंगे और ज्यादा से ज्यादा दलितों को कारोबार की दुनिया में लायेंगे। मिलिंद ने बड़े पैमाने पर दलितों की मदद करने का संकल्प लिया। ये संकल्प लेने के पीछे भी एक दिलचस्प किस्सा है। हुआ यूँ था कि रेलवे के काम-काज के संदर्भ में मिलिंद अक्सर मुंबई-पुणे के बीच यात्रा किया करते थे। उसी दौरान एक बार उन्होंने वीटी रेल्वे स्टेशन पर फॉर्च्यून पत्रिका देखी और उसे खरीद लिया। पत्रिका के पन्ने पलटने के दौरान उनकी नज़र देश के सबसे अमीर लोगों की सूची पर पड़ी। मिलिंद ढूंढने लगे कि सूची में कितने नाम दलित वर्ग से हैं। लेकिन सूची में एक भी दलित का नाम नहीं था। मिलिंद ने सोचा की क्या वजह है कि अमीरों की सूची में दलितों का नाम नहीं है। देश के सबसे अमीर 100 लोगों की सूची में एक भी नाम दलित का नहीं है, ये बात मिलिंद को बहुत खलने लगी। उनका मन ये बात जानने को उतावला हो गया कि आखिर कोई भी दलित अमीरों की सूची में क्यों नहीं है? इस सवाल का जवाब जानने की कोशिश में मिलिंद को पता चला कि दलित समुदाय के बहुत ही कम लोग कारोबार की दुनिया में आते हैं और जो आते भी हैं वे छोटे कारोबार ही करते हैं। दिलचस्प बात ये भी है कि आगे चलकर मिलिंद ने अपनी नयी कंपनी का नाम फार्च्यून कंस्ट्रक्शन्स रखा।

अपने बुद्धिजीवी और अनुभवी मित्रों से बातचीत के बाद मिलिंद को इस बात का भी अहसास हुआ कि दलितों को शिक्षा और रोज़गार के अवसर बताने वाले लोग और संस्थाएं तो बहुत हैं लेकिन दलितों को कारोबार के अवसर दिखाने और दिलवाने वाले लोग बहुत कम हैं। आत्मविश्वास से भरे मिलिंद ने काफी काफी विचार-मंथन के बाद एक बड़ा फैसला लिया। फैसला था – एक ऐसी संस्था बनाने का जो दलितों को कारोबार की दुनिया में लाने और उन्हें आगे बढ़ाने में मदद करे। मिलिंद को लगा कि देश में कारोबारियों की मदद और मार्गदर्शन के लिए भारतीय वाणिज्य एवं उद्योग महासंघ (फिक्की) भारतीय उद्योग परिसंघ (सीआईआई) और भारतीय वाणिज्य एंव उद्योग मंडल (एसोचैम) जैसे संगठन तो हैं लेकिन दलित वर्ग के लोग इनसे ज्यादा लाभ नहीं उठा पा रहे हैं। उन्होंने इन्हीं संगठनों की तर्ज़ पर दलितों के लिए एक ख़ास संगठन/ संस्था बनाने की सोची। मिलिंद ने दलित विचारक और साथ चन्द्रभान के साथ मिलकर दलित इंडियन चेम्बर ऑफ कॉमर्स एण्ड इंडस्ट्री की स्थापना की। ‘डिक्की’ के नाम से मशहूर ये संस्था पूरे देश में दलित वर्ग के युवाओं को सफल उद्यमी बनाने में सहयोग कर रही है और अब दलित उद्यमियों और कारोबारियों की प्रतिनिधि संस्था है। ये संस्था न सिर्फ दलितों को उद्यमी और कारोबारी बनाने में मदद कर रही है बल्कि वाणिज्य एवं व्यापार के क्षेत्र में दलितों के हितों की रक्षा के लिये भी काम कर रही है। मिलिंद ने कहा, “ मैं दलित कारोबारियों को एकजुट करना चाहता था ताकि हमारे समाज के और लोग उन्हें देखें और उनसे प्रेरणा ले और कारोबार की दुनिया में आयें।”

मिलिंद कई दलित कारोबारियों और उद्यमियों को दलित इंडियन चेम्बर ऑफ कॉमर्स एण्ड इंडस्ट्री (डिक्की) से जोड़ने में कामयाब रहे हैं। डिक्की ने देश के कई राज्यों में अपनी शाखाएं भी खोल ली हैं। यूके, यूएई, जापान, जर्मनी, नीदरलैंड जैसे देशोंमें भी 'डिक्की' की शाखाएं खुल चुकी हैं। ज्यादा से ज्यादा दलितों को उद्यमी और कारोबारी बनाने के लिए डिक्की ने देश-भर में कई कार्यक्रम भी आयोजित किये हैं और इन आयोजनों का सिलसिला जारी हैं। साल 2010 में 'डिक्की' ने पहला ‘ट्रेड फेयर’ आयोजित किया और इसमें रतन टाटा, आदि दरेज जैसे दिग्गज उद्योगपतियों ने शिरकत की। बहुत कम लोग जानते है इस ‘ट्रेड फेयर’ के आयोजन की वजह से हुए घाटे की भरपाई के लिए मिलिंद ने अपना एक फ्लैट बेच दिया था। मिलिंद नहीं चाहते थे कि उनकी संस्था के आयोजन की वजह से किसी को भी कोई भी नुकसान हो। सभी को उनके रुपये देने के लिए मिलिंद ने अपना एक फ्लैट बेच दिया।
मिलिंद ने इस तरह के त्याग कई बार किये। उनका सबसे बड़ा त्याग यही था कि उन्होंने कारोबार से समय निकाला और अपना ध्यान डिक्की की स्थापना और उसके विकास में लगाया। मिलिंद उन कारोबारियों में से नहीं हैं जी सिर्फ अपने फायदे की सोचते हैं। बातचीत के दौरान हमें इस बात का भी अहसास हुआ कि मिलिंद दलितों के लिए कुछ भी कर-गुजरने को तैयार हैं। उनके जीवन का मकसद की ज्यादा से ज्यादा दलितों को उनकी तरह कामयाब कारोबारी और उद्यमी बनाना है। डिक्की की कामयाबी से मिलिंद काफी खुश और संतुष्ट हैं, लेकिन उनका कहना है कि अभी बहुत कुछ करना बाकी है। वे कहते हैं, “एक वक्त था जब दलित युवाओं के सामने दो ही रास्ते थे। पहला, नौकरियों में मिल रहे आरक्षण का लाभ उठाकर सरकारी नौकरी पाना, या राजनीति में आरक्षित कोटे का लाभ उठाकर कॉर्पोरेटर, एमएलए, एमपी बनना या फिर राजनीति में खुद को स्थापित करना। लेकिन इन दोनों ही क्षेत्रों में अवसर काफी सीमित हैं। ऐसे में डिक्की अब दलित युवाओं को अपार संभावनाओं वाला तीसरा रास्ता दिखा रही है। ये रास्ता है उद्यमिता का, जहाँ हर व्यक्ति अपनी काबिलियत के दम पर धन व यश कमा सकता है। हमने दलितों में ये विश्वास पैदा किया है कि वे भी उद्यमी बन सकते हैं। देश में अलग-अलग कारोबार कर सकते हैं। हमने दलित युवाओं के सोचने का तरीका बदला है, अब देश के कई युवा ये कह रहे हैं कि – हम भी उद्यमी बनेंगे। डिक्की ने युवाओं में नयी सोच पैदा कर उनके जीवन-विधान को बदला है।” डिक्की न सिर्फ केंद्र सरकार बल्कि कई सरकारों के साथ मिलकर दलितों के उत्थान और विकास के लिए काम कर रही है।

मिलिंद का मानना है कि कारोबारी दुनिया में किसी भी व्यक्ति या संस्था की महत्ता उसकी साख सबसे अहम है। वे ये बात कहते हुए बहुत ही खुश नज़र आते हैं कि हमारी संस्था की सबसे बड़ी विशेषता उसकी विश्वसनीयता ही है। हमारी संस्था ने मनमोहन सिंह की सरकार के साथ भी शानदार तरीके से काम और आज नरेन्द्र मोदी सरकार के साथ भी उतनी ही दक्षता के साथ काम कर रही है। मिलिंद जोर देते हुए कहते हैं कि सरकार की नीतियाँ ही किसी भी उद्योग या उद्यमी के सफल होने में अहम भूमिका निभाती है। इसी बात को ध्यान में रखते हुए उन्होंने देश में अलग-अलग राज्य सरकारों के मुख्यमंत्रियों, मंत्रियों और आला अधिकारियों के साथ बैठकें कर दलितों के लिए अनूकूल नीतियाँ बनाने पर काफी काम किया। और तो और, मिलिंद शुरू से ही ये जानते थे कि किसी भी कारोबार को शुरू करने के लिए ‘शुरूआती पूँजी’ अर्ली स्टेज फंडिंग की ज़रुरत होती है। कई दलित उद्यमी तो बनाना चाहते हैं लेकिन उनके पास अपना उद्यम शुरू करने के लिए जरूरी पूंजी नहीं होती। उद्यमी बनने के इच्छुक दलित युवाओं को पूँजी दिलवाने में मदद करने के लिए डिक्की ने विभिन्न सरकारों और सरकारी संस्थाओं से नयी-नयी योजनाएँ शुरू करवाई हैं। मिलिंद ये कहते हुए फूले नहीं समाते कि स्टैंड अप इंडिया, मुद्रा योजना, वेंचर कैपिटल फंड या क्रेडिट इनहांसमेंट स्कीम जैसी योजनाओं के तहत दलित उद्यमियों को 50 हजार से लेकर 15 करोड़ तक का कर्ज लेने की सुविधा उपलब्ध है।

मिलिंद कांबले, बाबा साहेब अंबेडकर के विचारों से बेहद प्रभावित हैं। बाबा साहेब अंबेडकर के बारे में उन्होंने काफी अध्ययन किया है। मिलिंद के अनुसार, बाबा साहेब के व्यक्तित्व और काबिलियत का एक पक्ष ऐसा है जिसके बारे में आमतौर पर चर्चा कम ही होती है। वे कहते हैं, “डॉ अंबेडकर मूल रूप से अर्थशास्त्र के विद्यार्थी थे। वे एक महान अर्थशास्त्री थे। डॉ.अंबेडकर ने उसी वक्त ये पहचान लिया था कि दलितों का इकॉनॉमिक इनपावरमेंट यानि की आर्थिक सशक्तीकरण बेहद जरुरी है। दलित लोग उसी समय सशक्त हो सकते हैं जब वे हर क्षेत्र में अपनी भूमिका निभा रहे हों।” मिलिंद ने आगे कहा, “आज भी स्थिति ये है कि सामजिक और राजनैतिक क्षेत्र में तो दलित समाज के लिये कई लीडर मौजूद हैं, लेकिन दलितों के लिये बिजनेस लीडर की कमी है। और हम डिक्की के ज़रिये देश में दलित बिज़नेस लीडर बनाने में जुटे हैं।
एक सवाल के जवाब में मिलिंद ने कहा, “मेरा सपना है कि अगले 10 सालों में भारत में कम से कम 100 दलित अरबपति हों। और, मैं मानता हूँ कि हर हाल में 100 दलित अरबपति होंगे। ये बातें मैं हवा में नहीं कहता। डिक्की आज एक कामयाब संस्था है। हमारी एक बड़ी कामयाबी ये भी है कि हमने देश में एक रचनात्मक और सकारात्मक आंदोलन की शुरुआत की है, इस आंदोलन में ने न कोई सड़क पर उतरा है और ना ही किसी ने कोई नारेबाजी की है। एक ख़ास रणनीति के तहत काम हुआ है। दलितों का नजरिया बदला है और वे कारोबार की दुनिया में आ रहे हैं।” ख़ास जोर देकर मिलिंद ये कहते हैं कि जितने ज्यादा दलित उद्यमी बनेंगे, देश और समाज को उतना लाभ होगा। दलित समाज को आर्थिक और सामाजिक रूप से मज़बूत किये बिना देश के विकास की कल्पना नहीं की जा सकती हैं।

मिलिंद का ये भी दावा है कि दलितों के लिये चलाई जा रही अलग-अलग योजनाओं की वजह से साल 2019 तक देश में सवा लाख से ज्यादा दलित उद्यमी और उद्योगपति होंगे। मिलिंद का ये भी सपना है कि दलित समाज उस समाज के रूप में न जाना जाये जो हमेशा कुछ मांगता रहता है, बल्कि दलित समाज की पहचान अब इस रूप में होनी चाहिए जहाँ वह देने की स्थिति में हो। दलित समाज के लोग ज्यादा से ज्यादा इनकम टैक्स देने वाले बनें ताकि देश की आर्थिक तरक्की में योगदान दें सकें। वे कहते हैं, “जिस दिन दलित लोग नौकरी लेने वालों से नौकरी देने वाले बन जाएंगे तभी लोगों को ये अहसास होगा कि दलित समाज भी आगे आ गया और वो अब पिछड़ा नहीं है।” दलितों के प्रति लोगों के नज़रिए के बारे में पूछे गए एक सवाल के जवाब में मिलिंद ने कहा, “हालात पहले से काफी बेहतर हैं, लेकिन आज भी कई लोग दलितों को वो सम्मान नहीं देते जिसके वे हक़दार हैं। दलितों के साथ आज भी भेदभाव किया जाता है। उनके रास्ते में अडचनें पैदा की जाती हैं।” ये पूछे जाने पर कि कारोबार की दुनिया में भी दलितों के साथ भेदभाव होता है, इस सफल कारोबारी ने कहा, “हाँ, होता है। वैसे भी कारोबार की दुनिया बहुत ही अलग है। यहाँ पर कोई भी आदमी जब कुछ नया करने की कोशिश करता है तो लोग उसे आसानी से उसका काम करने नहीं देते हैं। हर इंसान को कारोबार की दुनिया में अपनी जगह बनाने के लिए कई सारी दिक्कतों का सामना करना पड़ता है और जब वो व्यक्ति दलित हो तो उसकी दिक्कतें दुगुनु हो जाती हैं।”

अपने अनुभव के आधार पर नए उद्यमियों को सलाह देते हुए मिलिंद ने कहा, “अगर कामयाबी हासिल करनी है तो दो काम बहुत ज़रूरी हैं। पहला – जो भी काम करो पूरी निष्ठा से करो, दूसरा – अगर काम के प्रति लगाव और प्रेम नहीं है तो उसे मत करो, हर काम डिजायर और पैशन के साथ करने पर ही कामयाबी मिलती है। मैं कामयाब इसी वजह से हुआ क्योंकि मैंने मेहनत की, कभी किसी का एक रूपया भी नहीं फंसाया, पैशन के साथ काम किया और हमेशा ऐसे ही करूँगा।” 

देश और समाज के लिये कुछ कर गुजरने के जज्बे ने मिलिंद कांबले को आधुनिक भारत के सबसे प्रभावशाली और कामयाब सामाजिक क्रांतिकारियों में एक बनाया है। देश को अमूल्य योगदान के लिए भारत सरकार ने उन्हें ‘पद्मश्री’ से भी नवाज़ा है। दलितों को बिज़नेस लीडर बनाने और दलितों में से टाटा, बिड़ला की तरह ब्रांड खड़ा करवाने की कोशिश में जुटे मिलिंद कांबले वाकई अनोखे लीडर हैं। 





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